Back in 2009, in what already seems like the technology dark ages, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Google a patent for a floating data center that would use the ocean to provide power and cooling. The original patent reads as if someone at Google was channeling the late, and truly great, Nikola Tesla with plans for using wave and wind power, among other sources, combined in an islanded microgrid. Since Google has a patent war chest of more than 18,000 U.S.-based patents, it was easy to see the floating islands as nothing more than a vision, similar to Daniel Zubrin’s floating cities as a first step to Mars. Now, though, it seems that Google may in fact be building two of these floating data centers – so, we could actually see the creation of not only the first floating data center, but also the lowest carbon data center in the world.
If this is the case, how would this data center be powered and cooled? First, Google will not be the first company to apply shipping container architecture, along with water cooling, to servers. Rackable has designed a unit containing 28 server racks, with up to 1,400 servers, in a standard 40-foot shipping container. Using water for cooling reduces energy demand, it is claimed, by 25 kilowatts (kW). If, due to better cooling, the average server consumes 800 watts per hour at 28 servers per container, each container would require 268 kW of power per day.
A Tidy Fit
One photo shows 12 shipping containers going onto the potential Google barge. If each is a server box, then this represents 3.2 megawatts (MW) of power demand, not including the power needed for the barge and any living compartments. Let’s say the total power per day is 4 MW. Assuming there is not going to be four 1 MW wind turbines and some heavy-duty energy storage on board, we are likely looking at some combination of solar and fuel cell power.
We already know Google understands this combination; it has operated a solid oxide fuel cell Bloom Box and has had solar panels at its headquarters since 2008. Handily, fuel cells also can come in 40-foot shipping containers with solar panels attached to the top. So, this would fit neatly into the configuration of the barge. Using figures from a recent study looking at powering a barge in the United States with polymer electrolyte member fuel cells, 4 MW of fuel cells and solar would likely require between six to eight containers, with some built-in batteries for energy storage. This would take the grand total up to 20 containers – 12 for the servers and eight for the power plant and fuel. If the Pelamis offshore wave energy converter system, which was also mentioned in the grant, was working, this could be reduced somewhat. In other words, suddenly, these plans stop being visionary and start to be doable. Using fuel cells, solar, and batteries, we not only could see the first floating data center, but also the first near-zero carbon data center.
Tags: Carbon Emissions, Distributed Generation, Energy Efficiency, Google, Green Datacenters, Grid-Tied Energy Storage, Smart Energy Program
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