Thursday, 21st March 2019

Data and power on a collision course

Data and power are on a potential collision course according to a new report released by Peter Kelly-Detwiler of Northbridge Energy Partners.

The report examines the disconnect between power grid availability in the US, UK, and Europe and the growing demand for power from the increasingly data-driven economies around the world. Mind the Gap: Energy Availability and the Disconnect with Data, addresses the pressures on the CIO to harness the exponential growth in data with the realities of today’s power grids. Many of these grids are functioning on aging infrastructures, face increasing reliability issues, cost pressures and a mandate to decarbonize electricity supply resources.

“In the search for low-cost and reliable power supplies, the CIO is often involved in a search at the global level,” commented Kelly-Detwiler. “Unfortunately, many of the power grids up for consideration may not meet the stringent requirements for reliability, as electricity demand growth in many developed countries has outstripped the infrastructure necessary to keep up. The U.K., continental Europe, and the U.S. all face challenges unique to each area, while the Nordic economies, Iceland, and Quebec fare significantly better.”
Key considerations outlined in the report include:
  • Processing large data sets to extract useful information will drive continued growth in data centers which can both store and process data, and lead to an ever larger number of supercomputer data centers as well as high performance computers (HPCs). An increasing amount of processing and analysis will happen in real-time (or close to real-time), particularly in industries where the data become useless if not analyzed and acted upon immediately.
  • As both the quantity of the data and the value of processing that data quickly increases in the coming years, downtime will be even more costly. This further reinforces the fact that the reliability of the power grid will become an increasingly important element to consider in data center siting considerations.
  • Growing datacenter efficiencies are unlikely to keep pace with the surging demand for data storage, analytics, and information. As a result, overall energy use of data centers will grow. Data centers already represent one of the fastest growing users of electricity in the world. Globally, it is estimated that nearly 3 percent of all electricity use is dedicated to some kind of data center, an increase of 100 percent over the past five years.
  • It is estimated that in the U.S. alone, 2013 power use for data centers was equivalent to the output of about thirty-four 500 MW power plants, or twice . the use of all households in New York City. That number is forecasted to increase by almost 60 percent by 2020.
  • Globally, the energy used to support the Internet and our data-rich economy is equivalent to the power consumption of a country somewhere in size between Italy and Spain.
  • That growth will continue: A recent study projects that in just the next four years, the Internet of Things (IoT) will require 750 percent more data center capacity in service-provider facilities than is currently being used.
  • Data centers are putting more stress on an already brittle power system. The questions to be answered are not only “Will there be enough electricity?” but “Will it be there when my data center needs it?"
  • CIOs looking at outsourcing to data centers should include adequacy of electricity resources as part of the decision-making process. The questions then become about the power source, reliability, scalability and cost of operations.
Power reliability is critical, since the cost of outages can be crippling. Some grids are more reliable than others. When choosing data center locations, grid reliability should be one of the factors considered.
All electric grids are not created equal:
  • The UK is reportedly at capacity for the immediate future with limited generating resources and flexibility;
  • Germany is in transition with regulatory uncertainty
  • The U.S. increasingly struggles with an aging infrastructure and reliability issues in some parts of the country.
  • By contrast, the Nordic countries (including Iceland), enjoy an abundance of renewable resources and reliable power grids. The province of Quebec is similarly blessed. In the context of a 20-year investment in siting a data center, these reliability issues cannot be ignored.
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