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Is your data centre protected against volatile energy prices?

According to figures published on CRB Online, there are over 250 data centres in the UK with power supply exceeding 354 MW; that’s enough power to sustain a city of 600,000 people. However, with the amount of data we produce doubling every two years (IDC), the pressure is mounting. Big data means big networks, big infrastructure, and big power.

Without a reliable source of power, data centres are facing the increasing risk of encountering costly downtime. Data published in the most recent DCD Intelligence Industry Census indicates that the amount of electricity consumed globally by data centres has increased by 19% over the last five years, and predicts that spending on cooling, which currently accounts for over 40% of total energy costs, will grow by 8.6%.

Power, and the cost of power, is the number one issue for data centre Operators. In a recent study by EnergyQuote, it shows that by 2020, the UK will be the most expensive delivered energy market in Europe. And forecasts from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) suggest that the UK will see significant energy price increases until 2027, as we transition to a low-carbon market.

On-site generation: let’s take control of energy costs

As big data grips organisations, the power required to keep the data centre running is increasing; last year energy production rose 9%, the first increase since 1999 (DECC). However, the Government can’t look to traditional fossil fuels to meet demand. Under the Climate Change Act, the UK Government has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020, and 80% by 2050. Failure to do so will incur significant financial penalties.

Last year, energy generated by coal was down by a third, while low-carbon generation, from clean technologies, including wind, hydro, solar and bioenergy, accounted for 42.9% of supply, up from 35.6% in 2014.

For new data centre developments, where there is space to implement onsite generation, there is a great opportunity to take advantage of clean tech. By generating your own power, you can become almost self-sufficient, using the energy you produce to run your data centre. Then thanks to the export tariffs, which vary depending on the renewable technology used, you get paid to feed any unused power back into the National Grid.

Sounds like the perfect solution. But the dynamic effect of low-carbon generation can lead to an intermittency of supply. For example, if you’ve chosen to power your data centre using a wind turbine, and the wind doesn’t blow, we’ll see rapid surges in demand for the Grid, and prices will rise dramatically.

How to mitigate your risk

While we have smart grids and smart meters to help even out the peaks and troughs in demand, in reality, we are a very long way from operating a truly smart grid. Therefore, you need to implement controls, based on different commercial models, to help you work smarter and mitigate the risk of future energy price volatility. For example:

Leverage your renewable technology fully for smarter operations

Implementing ground source heat pumps for cooling may reduce your energy consumption by up to 40% through improved heat rejection from store refrigeration packs. But work smarter and reduce your power costs further, by re-using that waste heat to warm other areas of your data centre, such as staff rooms, and for hot water, although this can often be unfeasible due to a number of factors.

Be flexible about your operations

As low-carbon energy generation becomes ‘the norm’, it’s likely we’ll reach a point when suppliers may heavily discount their power, or give it away for free, at the weekend or on particularly windy days to help flatten out demand, and charge a premium for energy consumed during the day. If your operations allow, run intensive workloads at off-peak times to take advantage of these savings.


Trust Future-tech with your data centre design

We have been at the forefront of innovative data centre design, construction management and operations for over 30 years. Our dedicated in-house teams embrace innovation to help you get the most value from your investments. As an ISO14001 accredited organisation, and winner of several ‘green’ awards, including the Certified Energy Efficient Data Centre Award and Uptime Institute Green IT Award, we know how to make cleantech work for your organisation.