Decarbonizing Data Centers: 3 Replacements for Diesel Generators | Black & Veatch

Decarbonizing Data Centers: 3 Replacements for Diesel Generators

Decarbonizing Data Centers: 3 Replacements for Diesel Generators

Data centers require a tremendous amount of power to operate efficiently. Finding resilient, sustainable alternatives for emergency backup power is one way to drive to cleaner operations.

By Phil Fischer

With decarbonization targets in mind, big tech companies and major colocation providers are leading the way globally with renewable wind and solar energy purchases to power their expansive data centers.

Power consumption isn’t the only energy data center operators need to clean up. To realize net zero, these leaders also are piloting innovative alternatives to back-up generation.

Data centers rely on continuous, always-on power. Outages can cost thousands of dollars a minute, and to keep seamless uptime, when utility power is down, data centers, historically, use diesel generators. With regulations tightening, as well as communities and shareholders holding businesses accountable for emissions, companies have increasing pressure to replace diesel back-up power generators with cleaner options.

The desire to reduce carbon footprints may outweigh economic factors. However, emission reduction can happen in a cost-efficient manner. What energy replacements are best suited are dependent on criteria such as regional energy costs, regionally accessible energy resources, regulations, and the ability to recoup costs through revenue.

Companies like Black & Veatch can help evaluate the cleanest, most plentiful, and reliable source of energy for data center facilities, and also layer multiple options to build greater long-term resilience.

The three most viable, cleaner options to replace diesel generators today are:

Natural Gas

Advances in generator technology make natural gas generators an attractive option to achieve both continuous power and make strides toward corporate sustainability commitments. Natural gas is the cleanest burning of the fossil fuels, is readily available in most locations, and is more cost-efficient than diesel. Renewable natural gas (biogas) is another low-emission option that’s more sustainable since it can be endlessly sourced from trash, livestock operations, and wastewater treatment plants

Energy Storage

On premise energy storage can provide back-up power in the case of a grid outage, balance the volatility of distributed renewable energy, and shave energy costs during times when utility rates peak. This zero-emission solution is viable since battery technology has advanced and battery costs have decreased significantly in recent years.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Generation

Hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant element in the universe, which makes it a prime candidate for a sustainable renewable energy source. The costs to transport and store it, as well as produce “green hydrogen” through the process of electrolysis, have keep it from reaching its full viability; however, the economics are lining up and the market has proven successful use cases.

In the future, nuclear energy holds potential for providing continuous clean energy for large data centers campuses, but the conversations are in early states, and questions linger about the safety and public sentiment around nuclear generation.

The vision of a more sustainable and clean data center is achievable. By embracing full decarbonization, data center operators can ensure an economically viable business model, future-proof operations, and provide stabilization to the utility grid. 

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