In late June, Google announced plans to site its 14th massive data center at the Widows Creek Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal-fired generation site in Alabama. The $600 million facility will also re-purpose the 60-year-old coal-fired site, which will soon be retired, leveraging existing electric transmission and distribution infrastructure. This infrastructure might have otherwise become another stranded utility asset, ultimately abandoned. While the data center is planned to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, access to existing electric transmission infrastructure provides access to renewable power not generated at the data center site, as well as additional backup capabilities sometimes necessary to operate 24/7.
The size of and the electrical power requirements for Google data centers are huge. Google has a history of building creative large-scale data centers, which are some of the largest electric power consumers on the transmission grid. The company’s data center designs are typically state of the art, utilizing the latest cooling technologies to keep aisle after aisle of servers running at optimal temperatures on a 24/7 basis. Google’s designs are also known for their creative use of renewable energy where possible.
TVA’s Widows Creek Facility
(Source: Tennessee Valley Authority)
Gary Demasi, Google’s director of data center energy and location strategy, reported that, “The idea of re-purposing a former coal generating site and powering our new facility with renewable energy — especially reliable, affordable energy that we can count on 24/7 with the existing infrastructure in place — was attractive.”
Patrick Gammons, Google’s senior manager for data center energy and location strategy added, “Thanks to an arrangement with Tennessee Valley Authority, our electric utility, we’ll be able to scout new renewable energy projects and work with TVA to bring the power onto their electrical grid. Ultimately, this contributes to our goal of being powered by 100% renewable energy.”
With the seemingly insatiable need for power, infrastructure, and real estate that large data centers have, this 100% renewable data center plan provides a model for other utilities nationwide to use when determining how to redevelop coal plant sites. With the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) recent announcement that the coal plant retirement timetable is accelerating, in part due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan mandate, Google’s clean energy leadership is certainly an inspiration.