Sustainablog

This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.

25.10.07

Server farm goes solar: A data storage company generates all its own power using solar panels.



Server Farms Go Solar

Aiso_phil_nail03Green Wombat has written a lot lately about the greening of the data center and efforts by companies like Sun Microsystems (JAVA), Google (GOOG), Intel (INTC), and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) to slash the power consumption of energy-hungry servers. But perhaps the ultimate eco-friendly server farm is a small 100 percent solar-powered data center in the Southern California desert called AISO.net. Green Wombat visited AISO co-founder and CTO Phil Nail recently for a story that appears in the final issue of Business 2.0 magazine and is now available online.


Server farm goes solar
A data storage company generates all its own power using solar panels.
Business 2.0 Magazine
By Todd Woody, Business 2.0 Magazine
October 4 2007: 4:53 AM EDT

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Massive data centers are vital to the economy. They are also notorious power hogs. If their numbers keep growing at the expected rate, the United States alone will need nearly a dozen new power plants by 2011 just to keep the data flowing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

That's why a small server-farm company called AISO.net (for "affordable Internet services online") has gone completely off the grid. Located 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles in the desert hamlet of Romoland, AISO.net has flanked its 2,000-square-foot building with two banks of ground-mounted solar panels, which generate 12 kilowatts of electricity. Batteries store the juice for nighttime operation.



phil_nail.03.jpg
Bright idea: Nail runs his Web hosting service on 12 kilowatts of carbon-free electricity.




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To slash energy consumption, AISO.net switched from 120 individual servers to four IBM blades running virtualization software that lets one computer do the work of multiple machines. The cooling system cranks up for only about 10 minutes an hour, and when the outside temperature drops to 60 degrees, air is sucked into the building to cool the servers. Solar tubes built into the roof illuminate the facility's interior.

The service is attracting plenty of eco-conscious clients. Al Gore's Live Earth concerts were webcast on AISO.net's servers in July. And San Diego startup GreenestHost is reselling AISO.net's services to mom-and-pop website operators who want to go carbon-neutral. "Small data centers could easily start to adapt and make changes like this," says AISO.net co-founder Phil Nail, who claims the project cost about $100,000.

His monthly electric bills, once as high as $3,000, have dropped to zero. Larger data centers can't match that. But Sun Microsystems (Charts, Fortune 500) did recently slash power consumption 61 percent by consolidating its Silicon Valley servers into a single state-of-the-art facility. And IBM (Charts, Fortune 500) BladeCenter VP Alex Yost sees growing demand for energy-efficient servers like the ones AISO.net uses. "It's an enormous economic opportunity," he says.  Top of page




23.10.07

Power up your city game (and get 6 months of Economist.com free!)


Thanks to Tezmin for the reminder


Dear Economist.com reader,

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Power station harnesses Sun's rays (a story earlier this year describing the solar concentrator/tower in Andalusia, Spain)


Power station harnesses Sun's rays
By David Shukman
Science correspondent, BBC News, Seville


Solar thermal power station   Image: BBC
A field of 600 mirrors reflects rays from the Sun
A tour of the tower

How the solar tower works


There is a scene in one of the Austin Powers films where Dr Evil unleashes a giant "tractor beam" of energy at Earth in order to extract a massive payment.

Well, the memory of it kept me chuckling as I toured the extraordinary scene of the new solar thermal power plant outside Seville in southern Spain.

From a distance, as we rounded a bend and first caught sight of it, I couldn't believe the strange structure ahead of me was actually real.

A concrete tower - 40 storeys high - stood bathed in intense white light, a totally bizarre image in the depths of the Andalusian countryside.

The tower looked like it was being hosed with giant sprays of water or was somehow being squirted with jets of pale gas. I had trouble working it out.

In fact, as we found out when we got closer, the rays of sunlight reflected by a field of 600 huge mirrors are so intense they illuminate the water vapour and dust hanging in the air.

The effect is to give the whole place a glow - even an aura - and if you're concerned about climate change that may well be deserved.

Field of mirrors   Image: BBC

It is Europe's first commercially operating power station using the Sun's energy this way and at the moment its operator, Solucar, proudly claims that it generates 11 Megawatts (MW) of electricity without emitting a single puff of greenhouse gas. This current figure is enough to power up to 6,000 homes.

But ultimately, the entire plant should generate as much power as is used by the 600,000 people of Seville.

It works by focusing the reflected rays on one location, turning water into steam and then blasting it into turbines to generate power.

As I climbed out of the car, I could hardly open my eyes - the scene was far too bright. Gradually, though, shielded by sunglasses, I made out the rows of mirrors (each 120 sq m in size) and the focus of their reflected beams - a collection of water pipes at the top of the tower.

It was probably the heat that did it, but I found myself making the long journey up to the very top - to the heart of the solar inferno.

David Shukman on top of the tower   Image: BBC
David had to wear sunglasses to shield his eyes from the glare

A lift took me most of the way but cameraman Duncan Stone and I had to climb the last four storeys by ladder. We could soon feel the heat, despite thick insulation around the boiler.

It was like being in a sauna and for the last stages the metal rungs of the ladders were scalding.

But our reward was the cool breeze at the top of the tower - and the staggering sight of a blaze of light heading our way from down below.

So far, only one field of mirrors is working. But to one side I could see the bulldozers at work clearing a second, larger field - thousands more mirrors will be installed.

Letting off steam

I met one of the gurus of solar thermal power, Michael Geyer, an international director of the energy giant Abengoa, which owns the plant. He is ready with answers to all the tricky questions.

What happens when the Sun goes down? Enough heat can be stored in the form of steam to allow generation after dark - only for an hour now but maybe longer in future.

Anyway, the solar power is most needed in the heat of summer when air conditioners are working flat out.

Is it true that this power is three times more expensive than power from conventional sources? Yes, but prices will fall, as they have with wind power, as the technologies develop.

Also, a more realistic comparison is with the cost of generating power from coal or gas only at times of peak demand - then this solar system seems more attractive.

The vision is of the sun-blessed lands of the Mediterranean - even the Sahara desert - being carpeted with systems like this with the power cabled to the drizzlier lands of northern Europe. A dazzling idea in a dazzling location.

HOW THE SOLAR TOWER WORKS

Annotated pictures of solar tower, receiver, heliostat
1. The solar tower is 115m (377ft) tall and surrounded by 600 steel reflectors (heliostats). They track the sun and direct its rays to a heat exchanger (receiver) at the top of the tower
2. The receiver converts concentrated solar energy from the heliostats into steam
3. Steam is stored in tanks and used to drive turbines that will produce enough electricity for up to 6,000 homes



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22.10.07

Some Green articles from Chemistry World


Thanks to Brian for these

Hi JF,

I thought that the community could be interested in this series of articles, they were published in the most recent Chemistry World, which is the magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry: