Does efficiency matter when your power is renewable (and affordable)?

Does efficiency matter when your power is renewable (and affordable)?

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An interesting issue came up when I was discussing data centers in Iceland. The use of renewable energy could potentially change the priorities you aim for in your data center.

The context was a conversation about the data center which Colt is shipping out to Keflavik, Iceland, for Verne Global which is due to be shipped. I was talking to people from Colt and Verne (and in the interest of full disclosure, I should remind you that Verne is the sponsor of this blog).

A lot of the interest in this deal is because the centre is modular – 37 pre-built pieces will be shipped out and bolted together to form a 500 square metre data center inside one of Keflavik’s big hangars, in a matter of weeks.

But there was a throwaway remark that brought me up short during the conversation. After years of writing about green data centers, I knew we had to cover the issue of efficiency and power utilization effectiveness (PUE) because, well, that’s what measures the quality of all green data centers, isn’t it?

To my surprise, the people from Colt and Verne more or less dismissed PUE as a useful concept in this case.

Ask yourself why PUE and energy efficiency is so important. There are two reasons. Energy is expensive, using it more efficiently means using less, so it means saving money. And electrical energy is normally derived from sources like coal and oil, that produce greenhouse emissions,

Using less energy normally means less CO2 and other greenhouse gas is produced. As well as being good for the planet, this is increasingly good for the bottom line – as green taxes on energy use gradually start to appear.

In Iceland, though, things look different. The electricity is all produced by hydroelectric and geothermal sources. There are pretty much no emissions. So saving electricity will still feel good, but it won’t make a difference to global warming,

Of course, saving energy will still save money – but again, Icelandic electricity is cheaper, so if you are comparing one Icelandic data center with another, efficiency isn’t such a big win.

In some ways, Icelandic data centers could go back to the bad old days before energy costs started to rocket upwards.

Except that, cheap electricity still costs money, and saving it still pays off. Iceland’s famous “free cooling” climate saves on the electricity bill, even if that bill is much smaller than it would be elsewhere. So the people running this center prefer to talk about overall cost of ownership.

I think this is progress. Building in Iceland is like taking a trip back in time to when you didn’t have to watch your Watts. It’s good to see that good practice still prevails.

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