EU launches €3.6m project to increase use of renewable energy in data centres

5 Dec 2013

The RenewIT initiative, a three-year project to investigate how data centres can be designed and operated to make more efficient use of renewable energy, is one of six to receive funding under the EU’s Framework Programme 7 (FP7) initiative.

With a budget of €3.6m, the initiative has been launched by the EU to develop tools and research that will encourage the use of on-site sources of renewable energy (such as solar, wind and biomass), and renewable cooling using outside air cooling and seawater cooling.

The project involves both commercial and scientific organisations and is led by Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC), a not-for-profit energy research centre.

Just last month, Google, Facebook, Box and Rackspace committed to powering their data centres with 100pc renewable energy. Apple and have made similar commitments, but the majority of European data centres are not yet taking this approach.

“Currently, only a minority of European data centres derive energy from renewable sources,” said Andrew Donoghue, senior analyst for data centre technologies and eco-efficient IT at 451 Research, a member of the RenewIT initiative. “Of those that do, the motivation is usually to gain positive publicity or curry favour with regulators rather than for purely commercial reasons,” he added.

Challenges ahead

RenewIT project co-ordinator Dr Jaume Salom of IREC explained the challenges involved: “The main roadblocks to using renewable energy to power data centres are the perceived costs and the lack of tools to help operators make decisions about renewable energy. This project aims to overcome some of these obstacles by designing tools to evaluate the environmental performance and the share of renewable energy sources in the emerging concept of Net Zero Energy data centres.”

To put this in context, data centres require a continuous power flow, but renewable sources of energy can fluctuate from day to day or season to season. The ambition of the RenewIT project is to develop tools that will help match the intermittent flow of energy from on-site renewables with the applications and workloads being executed by the data centre.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.