Turning the Internet Green: 5 Energy-Efficient Data Centers

Ysabel Yates | Wed Jun 20 2012

Data centers, the buildings where online data is stored and information processing takes place, are the brains of the Internet. And as the human brain is to the body, data centers are the most energy-intensive part of the Internet.

A 2008 study by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. projected that by 2020, data centers would release more greenhouse gases than the airline industry. Forecasts like this, as well as pressure from environmentally conscious customers and investors, have prompted a new race among big tech companies to create the greenest data center. Many companies are going north to take advantage of frigid climates, or using cold water to save on cooling costs, but others are using innovative solutions in hot climates.

Here is a look at some of the most innovative ways data centers are reducing their energy use:

Facebook’s Arctic Circle Data Center

To cool off its servers, and save energy, Facebook’s newest data center will be located close to the Arctic Circle in Lulea, Sweden. With an average temperature of 1C, the social networking giant can save energy by using air to cool its generators. The Arctic center will span 323,000 square feet and is expected to require 70 percent fewer backup generators because the regional power grid, fed by hydroelectric power, is so reliable there. It is scheduled for completion in 2014.

Two for one: Google’s Data Center and Water Treatment Plant

In place of air conditioning, most of Google’s data centers use evaporative cooling, a process by which cold water in pipes cool off the servers. This approach requires half as much energy as a typical data center. Google’s data center in Douglas County, Georgia took the process one step further by using recycled water in place of drinking water. Google worked with the local utility to build a side-stream plant and an on-site Water Treatment plant to clean the water before it is sent back into the local river.

Apple’s Trash-Powered Data Center

Apple’s North Carolina data center, which is currently under construction, plans to power its fuel cells with biogas sourced from landfills. The data center will also sport a 20-megawatt solar array to further offset its carbon footprint.

Verne Global’s Modular Icelandic Data Center

Verne Global uses Iceland’s cold climate and ample renewable energy sources in its modular data center in Keflavik. Outside air gives the center free cooling year-round, while the modular design allows the company “to quickly scale capacity to address customer demand in a rapid time-frame”, said Jeff Monroe, Verne Global CEO.

Data Center in a Cave

It could double as a Bond villain’s secret lair, but it’s really just “the greenest data center in the world.” The Green Mountain Data Center, currently under construction, is located deep beneath the mountains near Stavanger, Norway and will use cold water from a nearby fjord for cooling. The center’s operators, Smedvig and ErgoGroup, also claim it will have have zero CO2 emissions since it will be powered by renewable energy sources, most likely hydroelectric. It’s expected to be operational by the end of this year.

Top image: Green Mountain Data Center, courtesy greenmountain.no.