RenewIT: The EU project focussing on green energy

February 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

RenewIT is a new project that aims to take the naivety out of being green. It’s the latest in a series of initiatives driven by the EU under its Framework Programme 7 (FP7) initiative, which aims to create better intelligence for data center managers who want to source sustainable energy. The EU is spending €3.6m on the project over the next three years.

The stated objective of FP7 is to make data centers energy efficient and environmentally friendly and RenewIT is the latest in a series of movements including Dolfin, Genic, Geyser, GreenDataNet and DC4Cities. The goal is to have data centers sourcing 80% of their power from renewable sources, and this can only be achieved by getting better information, according to program sponsors.

The project will be led by the energy research center at the Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC) and will use experts on renewable energy systems (from Aiguasol in Barcelona) and energy storage (at the Technische Universität Chemnitz in Germany), data center monitoring (Loccioni in Italy), workload and application energy management (BSC) and energy efficient data center design (Deerns in Amsterdam).

Each of these projects is developed to research and design commercial tools to help increase the proportion of renewable energy generated and used by data centers. It may be an ambitious target but some data center expects say there is plenty of scope for improvement. “One of the ironies of the data center industry is that it doesn’t have great information about itself,” Liam Newcombe, CTO at data center optimization vendor Romonet, says.

RenewIT will investigate how the data centers of the future could be designed and run not only to make more efficient use of energy but to influence the way energy is created.

“Few European data centers use renewable sources of energy,” project spokesperson Andrew Donoghue, an analyst at 451 Research – one of the bodies driving the project – says. Even those that do use renewables often do so for reasons other than hard-headed business logic, he says.

“Usually the motivation is publicity or politics – they’re pleasing the regulators rather than the stakeholders.”

Black and white
RenewIT has also been designed to give power brokers and data center managers perfect information and create greater liquidity in the renewable energy market.  If electrical power buyers can make a convincing business case for using solar, wind and biomass to run servers, and sea water and air to cool them, the target of 80% renewable energy might be achieved for the data center industry, Donoghue says.

News of the initiative has been welcomed by data center veteran Dave Watkins, operations director for Virtus Data Centres in London, which sources renewable energy to fulfill corporate social responsibility commitments. He says if being a green energy consumer was easier there might be a business case for renewable energy but at present getting a complete picture of the market is so complex that you need to pay a specialized energy consultant to sift through all the offerings and present the viable options.

“We specify what we want and they go through the energy procurement process with us,” Watkins says. “We’d rather pay a consultant to wade through all the details of offerings.”

Not that buying energy is a precise transaction. “The energy suppliers we use through the broker will contract to buy some renewable energy, and we’ll buy capacity from them. But energy that comes into our data center could have been generated from a nuclear power station for all we know. It’s not like there’s a wind turbine in Enfield powering our servers,” Watkins says.

Evaluating energy
RenewIT will overcome the information shortage by designing tools to evaluate the environmental performance and the share of renewable energy sources, Dr Jaume Salom, of IREC and RenewIT project co-ordinator, says. He admits there are challenges. The cost, capacity, lack of integration and the unreliability of its renewable sources currently mitigate against it.

Fluctuating input from solar and wind power do not create the continuous output demanded by data centers. One of the more ambitious aims of the RenewIT project is to develop tools to help match the intermittent flow of energy from onsite renewables with the applications and workloads being executed by the facility.

The RenewIT project has five aims: production of a web-based planning tool, workload management, integration of renewable power sources, validation of tools with real data centers and creation of new metrics for evaluating standards for measuring data center energy and effectiveness.

The planning tool is designed to measure economic, energy and sustainability costs of building any data center. The Barcelona Supercomputing Centre is to develop algorithms for scheduling workloads, using a monitoring and control platform engineered by Loccioni Group. This will build on existing research about the links between performance and energy consumption.

The aim is to give data center managers reports on the viability of moving workloads across time zones in order to chase cheaper or greener power.

Integration of sustainable sources has also been identified by Salom as a major concern if green power is to be considered a viable option. Salom says there are a number of variables here that need to still be brought together.

But the project aims to bring all these ‘moving parts’ into one cohesive offering. These include sources of heat (such as biomass, solar thermal, geothermal), power (such as wind, solar, hydro) and cooling (such as fresh/free air cooling, water, snow and sky radiation).

The efficiency of electrical power storage and the recycling of heat are also on the agenda.

Testing tools
To validate these new tools for data center measurement the project will work with eight data centers across Europe (split evenly between north and south Europe). The project will also develop new metrics and standards for evaluation incorporating infrastructure, equipment and IT workload management and renewables. It will also plug into a previous program on Smart Cities. Developers will work to improve the integration of data centers with smart city infrastructures by plugging into smart and micro grids.

But will the RenewIT approach be adopted? While the scale of the ambition for RenewIT is impressive, Virtus’ Watkins says he doubts it will change the way he directs operations.

While the prospect of better information can only help buying decisions, he says the complexity of a large-scale data center is beyond the remit of an online resource. 

“As with a lot of things in life, it probably comes down to size,” Watkins explains. “Larger data centers need to carry out capacity and profile planning, so the [energy] procurement process is quite complex – hence the use of specialist consultants.”

“For smaller businesses a Compare The Market- type website may be useful,” says Watkins. “If the focus of RenewIT is on renewable availability larger data centers may use it as an info source to aid the consultancy process.”

Some may argue that the market already provides analytical tools and that measurement units might be more useful.

“We’re increasingly seeing the need for a more holistic view of the data center based on a wider range of machine data,” Matt Davies, director of product marketing at data analysis tool vendor Splunk, says. “A growing trend is the inclusion of building data – typically energy, environmental and operational data from sensors – which gives organizations a deeper understanding of the building that the data center operates in.”


This article first appeared in Focus 33, read the digital edition here

Comments are closed.