Solar Could Be Data Center Power Answer

Data centers, those power-sucking appendages of the Digital Age, have come a long way in recent years, with Google, Facebook and others all finding ways to boost efficiency and reduce environmental impact. And now IBM is offering yet another tool: A solar power array designed specifically to run high-voltage data centers.

The key, IBM said, is integrating AC- and DC-based servers, water-cooled computing systems and other electronics. “By employing unique high-voltage DC power conditioning methods – and reducing AC-DC conversion losses – the new IBM solution can cut energy consumption of data centers by about 10 percent and tailors solar technology for wider use in industrial IT and electronics installations,”  IBM said.

IBM solar data center

image via IBM

IBM is setting up such a system – powered by a 6,000-square-foot rooftop solar array (pictured above) capable of providing a 50-kilowatt supply of electricity for up to 330 days a year, for an average of five hours a day – at its India Software Lab in Bangalore. IBM said this is the first effort to tie together solar power, water cooling and power conditioning into a “snap-together” package that can run massive configurations of electronic equipment. Typically, solar is considered too variable in its power production for data centers, which need a 100 percent certain power source.

“The technology behind solar power has been around for many years, but until now, no one has engineered it for efficient use in IT,” Rod Adkins, senior vice president, IBM Systems & Technology Group, said in a statement. “We’ve designed a solar solution to bring a new source of clean, reliable and efficient power to energy-intensive, industrial-scale electronics.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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