The Catalyst for change…

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An EU funded project has developed a ‘Green Data Centre Assessment Tool’ and is seeking to remove barriers to participation in grid services, such as frequency response. Carbon3IT managing director John Booth provides an insight…

The Catalyst project aspires to turn data centres into flexible, multi-energy hubs that can sustain investments in renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. 

Leveraging on results of past projects, Catalyst will adapt, scale up, deploy and validate an innovative technological and business framework that enables data centres to offer a range of mutualised energy flexibility services to both electricity and heat grids, while simultaneously increasing their own resiliency to energy supply. 

The project believes that it is possible for data centres to earn additional revenue by selling frequency response and other grid services to the electrical utilities (in countries that allow prosumers to operate), heat to district heating systems, and offer IT load shifting services to take advantage of renewable energy production at other ‘federated’ sites.

To this end, the project has mapped seven distinct scenarios and is using pilot sites in four countries across Europe to ‘test’ these scenarios. To further test the readiness of data centres to participate in future pilots or to adopt the Catalyst principles for themselves, the project has developed the Green Data Centre Assessment Tool and the Green Data Centre Roadmap.

Green Data Centre Assessment Tool

Versions one (top) and two of the Green Data Centre Roadmap, detailing the linkages and interaction between the assessment tool and other relevant information relating to the development of Catalyst

 

The tool assesses the readiness of a data centre to participate in the Catalyst marketplace by adopting some basic principles and the use of the ISO/IEC 30134 series of Data Centre Key Performance Indicators as a minimum. 

It then extends the assessment to consider the building itself, via a BREEAM/LEED accreditation, to determine sustainability. The EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres (energy efficiency) is a key element of the requirements to have an ‘energy efficient infrastructure’, while it is also important to use the EN 50600 series of ‘Data Centre Design, Build, Operate and Measure/Monitor/Report’ standards.

This has been put into practice at the Schiphol Airport Development Company on its proposed Green Data Centre Campus, together with the Green IT Amsterdam Data Centre Sustainability Framework, which includes the above but also introduces additional principles. 

The campus design is targeted to adopt onsite and near-site sustainable energy generation to meet the energy demand. Options must be taken into account to connect with distributed, local renewable energy sources, such as near-by solar parks, wherever possible. 

Additionally, data centres in the campus will explore opportunities to collaborate closely with energy utilities, grid distribution operators and energy services companies (ESCos) so as to ensure the campus is eventually powered 100% by renewable energy sources.

Data centres operating within the campus must ensure that their cooling technology and processes enable and promote heat recovery and reuse outside the strict boundaries of the data centre facility by, for example, connecting to existing or future heating grids at Schiphol-Rijk. 

Options to be explored include thermal storage facilities and connection to local heating and cooling networks for cooling purposes. The ambition is for data centres to reuse their residual heat up to 100%.

The Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is known for its strong knowledge of energy efficiency and footprint reduction practices. The data centre’s activities on the campus will focus on adoption and combining practices and expertise related to energy overhead reduction, leveraging green software practices among other innovation themes and solutions.

In addition to heat reuse, the campus will develop and adopt circular models and practices targeting IT equipment, data centre facilities and buildings, reducing e-waste and (construction) materials from a lifecycle perspective.

Also being explored is the potential to reduce emissions even further – specifically through sharing of services and facilities, along with a comprehensive area management plan.

All themes are interlinked and are therefore not developed in isolation but through cross-collaboration between the parties involved and under direction and coordination of SADC supported by Green IT Amsterdam.

Green Data Centre Roadmap

The project has also created a ‘roadmap’, although it can be described better as an ecosystem map, detailing, in an easy to read fashion, the linkages and interaction between the assessment tool and other relevant information relating to the development of Catalyst ‘type’ data centres such as technology types, global standards and infrastructure elements to consider for a new build and retrofit projects.

The first and second versions are reproduced here, and we welcome your feedback for any revisions or comments you feel may be useful. It is intended to publish a final version close to the end of the project (September 2020) but also to maintain it as a resource moving forward.

In order to further refine the Catalyst Green Data Centre Assessment Tool and Roadmap, we hold regular meetings to review and discuss updates, such as new standards and technologies or announcements at local, regional, national and international level.

We have already held events in Amsterdam, Manchester and Dublin and we will announce future events via our website at project-catalyst.eu 

In order to take full advantage of the Catalyst principles, it may be prudent of organisations to consider the use of a ‘campus’, where shared services such as renewable energy, innovative powertrain technologies, cooling, security and circular economy aspects can be considered.

The project, via Green IT Amsterdam, has already proposed such a campus to a major airport in Europe.

We feel that more focus and policy guidance needs to be provided at high level by national and local government, and via the inclusion of ‘data centres operating as central multi flexible energy hubs’ in development masterplans, fast track planning for renewable energy and district heat systems can be provided, ready for quick adoption by the data centre operators.

Training

The data centre industry does have a skills shortage and this is being addressed by various global parties, but the Catalyst principles also highlight a need for multi-skilled engineers, proficient in operating and maintaining, renewable energy systems, innovative cooling solutions as such immersed compute, and potentially fuel cells and hydrogen systems, these are a new category of jobs and provides a varying and interesting mix for graduates to consider.

The data centre of the future

So, what does the data centre of the future look like? While it is likely to resemble the data centre of today from the outside, on the inside, it will be producing its own energy, selling some to the utilities, providing heat to residential and offer commercial properties on a contractual basis, operating to the highest available standards by multi-skilled, engaged, highly qualified engineering and technical staff, housing state-of-the-art, renewable energy systems, energy recovery systems and, oh, some IT. 

They will truly be some of the most complex buildings ever built.

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