Illustration of the Tesla Megapack, which offers 3 megawatts of energy storage capacity. (Photo: Tesla)
We continue our work Article series Paving a reasonable path to sustainable data centers. The American Energy Information Association (EIA) lists five major sources of renewable energy. Last week, we looked at solar, wind, and geothermal power. This week, we’ll look at biomass and hydropower, as well as storage solution options that can reduce the need for diesel generators.
Biomass accounted for 4.9% of US energy consumption in 2020. Old is new again in this case because biomass was the largest source of energy consumption in the US until the mid-19th century, largely through wood burning. It processes organic matter into an energy source, most often by combustion but also through thermochemical, chemical or biological conversion into fuel. Despite being considered one of the most exotic sources of renewable energy, Canada has 70 biomass power plant which collectively produce more than 2 gigawatts of power, making bioenergy the second most widely used form of renewable energy in the country.
Biomass can prevent some types of waste from going to landfills, but extracting the right materials can be costly, and significant storage space is needed to store organic matter outside the growing season.
The main advantage of biomass is its ability to generate energy continuously as long as a fuel source is available. From a renewable energy perspective, the story is more mixed. If fuel sources such as crops and trees are constantly replaced, then burning biomass will not technically increase greenhouse gas emissions. However, doing so requires that the power source be physically close to the power plant and that the resources are committed to planting and harvesting the plant material. Biomass can prevent some types of waste from going to landfills, but extracting the right materials can be costly, and significant storage space is needed to store organic matter outside the growing season. Biomass is also one of the more expensive alternative energy sources.
Conclusion: This is not likely to become a major source of alternative energy for data centers in the foreseeable future.
hydroelectricity account for 7.3% of total utility-scale energy in the United States in 2020 and 37% of renewable electricity generation. However, its share of the alternative energy pie shrunk from 30% in 1950 with the growth of other renewables.
In some areas, water is king. China has made major commitments to hydropower and currently generates about 27% of the world’s capacity. Washington State gets about 10% of its energy from hydroelectric sources. Total energy generated by the sector Reached a record 4,370 TWh in 2020Most of them are outside the United States. Projects with a total capacity of 21 GW have also been commissioned, about two-thirds of which are in China.
The advantages of hydropower are that it is cheap (about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour), clean, and continuous. It can provide a reliable source of energy to support intermittent sources such as wind and solar energy. The supply can also be increased by releasing more water stored in tanks and storage tanks.
But while hydropower is renewable, it is not necessarily environmentally friendly.
- Dams needed to house turbines can significantly disrupt local ecosystems.
- The initial construction costs are too high to be practical for individual data center owners.
- Power generation also depends on the availability of water.
- With the US West Coast currently experiencing a historic drought, the show can no longer be taken for granted.
The large capital costs and economies of scale needed to make hydropower viable will limit its use to utilities. Companies looking to set up new data centers may want to take a look at the locations near existing or planned power plants that are part of their renewable initiatives.
Batteries are finally getting close to a corner and becoming viable alternatives to diesel generators for standby power. Two major recent important developments:
- Datacenter technology company Switch said it would Use Tesla Megapacks To support more than 800 megawatt hours of storage capacity on the campus of the Nevada data center.
- google Using large batteries To replace diesel generators at one of its data centers in Belgium.
The cost of grid-scale battery farms is dropping rapidly. The US EIA estimates Costs for this project fell 72% from 2015 to 2019. The agency also reported that 163 large-scale battery storage systems involving 1,688 megawatt-hours were operating in the United States at the end of 2019, a 28% increase from the previous year. Furthermore, it estimates that an additional 10,000 megawatts of large-scale battery storage will be operational by 2023.
Battery storage is now a viable alternative to generators in the short term. However, doubts exist about how well the technology will perform in a long-term blackout scenario. Most of the large projects to date have been combined with solar or wind farms. However, the EIA expects that future projects will increasingly integrate with power plants.
The US Energy Information Administration reported that 163 large-scale battery storage systems involving 1,688 megawatt-hours were operating in the US at the end of 2019, a 28% increase from the previous year.
In the near term, it is better to use batteries to increase the current UPS than to replace it. This allows operators to transition to cleaner energy while maintaining a safety net.
Download the entire paper,”Going Green: Paving a Reasonable Path to Sustainable Data CentersCourtesy of Kohler, to find out more. In the next article, we’ll look at different pathways to renewable energy. Catch up on previous articles over here And the over here.