Are solar-powered data centres for real?

HP have done a pretty cool proof of concept for a ‘net zero’ data centre which shifts workloads to match the availability of power from solar panels – which means that most of the power ends up being green, rather than coming from a less-green national grid.

A fun idea – but it’s probably a bit too far-fetched. I’ve not yet met a business which is willing to wait patiently for their data to process until the sun shines enough. And if the sun doesn’t shine, or you need to run servers at night, you’re instantly non-zero carbon as you’ve got to switch to other power sources.

There is a bit more of a realistic opportunity in timing work to follow the carbon intensity of the grid itself – using off-peak greener energy to run non-critical work where business need permits, and using data sources like Amee’s Real Time Carbon project to figure out exact timings. This ‘demand response’ approach is becoming popular in the consumer field, doing things like running washing machines at night, and it seems like there’s an easier opportunity to shift data centre loads, which are much larger units and more programmable than consumer requirements.

It would be great to find users (perhaps UK government, who want to be green but don’t want to move their data centres off grid?) who’d be open to piloting the idea. Anyone up for it?

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