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Will renewable energy risk data centre resilience?

As the industry looks towards a permanent renewable energy infrastructure, the resilience of data centres across Europe are now at risk, according to a major new report from Aggreko.

The report – Mission Critical – provides unique insight of 700 data centre consultants across the Netherlands, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the UK and Ireland, following a survey conducted by independent agency Censuswide on behalf of global temporary power and temperature solutions company Aggreko. 

The results found that more than half (55%) of those surveyed expressed at least some concern about the capabilities of the local grid and energy infrastructure’s ability to meet current demand. Among the least confident were respondents in the UK and the Netherlands.

Grid limitations were also the cause of most power outages across the regions for 60% of respondents. This could be one of the reasons for the high take up of renewable technology, with solar (70.4%) and wind (65.4%) popular among Europe.

However, while the move towards renewables appears to be gathering pace, a number of barriers to adopting the technology were also highlighted, including energy storage and changing technology. 

While the uptake in renewables is to be welcomed, it could leave the resilience of data centre facilities at risk, as Chris Rason, UK managing director at Aggreko explains, “Renewable technology is a key driver for the data centre market, and our research shows that both solar and wind are popular technologies. 

“However, as the use of these technologies increases, the risk to resilience also rises, especially during periods of intermittent energy supply. Energy storage is clearly a concern here, but as the use of diesel generators drops, operators and contractors need to look for greener solutions to ensure back-up power is available during periods of intermittence.”

On-site generation is also considered in the report, after more than 60% claimed that power security was a key driver to adopting a decentralised energy solution. Only one third (35.7%) admitted that on-site generation was in place as a revenue stream, while almost half (47%) cited rising energy costs as a key driver.

The report also includes an opinion piece from Zahl Limbuwala, executive director of Strategy & Market Engagement for CBRE Data Centre Solutions Group. He comments, “The findings from Aggreko’s survey provide further evidence of the rising challenges facing data centre operators.

“As the industry continues to grow, these challenges will only become more prevalent and perhaps a barrier to continued progress. Understanding the obstacles – and how to overcome them – is extremely important but we are confident our innovative industry can rise to the challenge.”

The survey results also show cause for concern when considering a data centre’s ability to cope with temperature demand. Last year saw Europe experience record high temperatures. With over 40% of respondents believing that first generation data centres are not able to meet temperature challenges, the question of whether facilities are able to cope with a warming planet continue to be raised.

Chris Rason adds, “Addressing the concerns of rising temperatures is already a priority for data centres and we have seen a trend towards free cooling being implemented in facilities. However, with temperatures on the increase, consultants are showing uncertainty as to whether facilities can indeed cope with the heat. 

“Data centre operators and managers should ask themselves ‘can this facility cope with sustained periods of heat?’ If the answer is no, then considering alternative or temporary cooling solutions during peak periods should be encouraged.”

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