I think I’ll Build a Wind Farm…

Sometimes, the saying goes, you have to put your money where your mouth is.

I’ve been talking about clean energy, energy conservation, Green IT and IT efficiency for some years now, so when the opportunity came along to do something a bit more practical about climate change I didn’t have to think for too long.

Hillside Farm is a windy old spot. It sits on the North-West coast of the UK, and is only a mile or so from the Irish Sea so I’d been thinking about installing a wind turbine on the farm to cover our power usage and maybe generate a little extra. Things have moved on a little in the last couple of years however, and my initial idea has now turned into something bigger altogether..

With initial wind speed surveys looking really promising (about 7m/s at 25m altitude), it occurred to me that it would be better to put up the biggest turbine possible, or maybe more than one. So by combining the land from our farm with that of our neighbor we are now looking at a proper three turbine wind farm.

Wind energy comes in for a lot of criticism here in the UK, and in general worldwide. Seen as huge eyesores, inefficient tax-break machines or worse, so I felt obliged to find out as much as possible about wind energy before I took the plunge. I visited existing installations, researched the technical ins and outs, looked at recent advances in the technology and listened hard to both pro and anti wind groups at many presentations and meetings.

The conclusion was that there is a lot of myth making around what is a long established and productive way of generating renewable energy. Sure the old two blade turbines from 20 to 30 years ago are not the most efficient energy generators, but things have moved on a whole lot since then. Modern turbines can generate significant amounts of energy, with the larger models producing enough for around 1,000 homes. I also feel that most people tend to overlook the fact that wind energy is a relatively short term solution. There are some amazing technologies coming down the line which will be hopefully generating clean energy for us in the future, but until they are ready we need to both reduce our current energy consumption and generate as much electricity as we can from the technologies that we have available right now. In 50 years time we may look back and laugh at our efforts to generate power with these spindly looking giants, but if they allow us the breathing space to transition away from fossil fuel generation methods then who cares!

Eye of the Beholder

Personally I find wind turbines quite beautiful. Having stood right under the rotating blades of a 300ft turbine recently, I can tell you that it’s an amazing sight, and not at all noisy! All you can hear is the swoosh of the blade as it passes overhead at 300mph and you can quite easily hold a normal conversation there.

The Plan

I’m pleased to say that we are now well under way with preparations and planning for our own wind farm. If built, it should generate enough power for 3-4,000 homes using turbines like these from REPower . We have undertaken 12 months of environmental impact surveys on the farm too, in order to ascertain the species present, and to make sure that there is minimal environmental impact by monitoring things like bird flight paths and feeding grounds. Construction will be a big undertaking, with roads to be built, and grid connections required, but I’m hoping that within a couple of years we will be up and generating. Watch this space for updates and photos!

UK Business Is Wasting £6Bn Through Energy Inefficiencies

We’ve been sharing our vision of efficiency and elimination of waste for businesses for over 10 years now, but it seems that one or two businesses weren’t listening!

From Carbon Connect:

UK MP Chris Huhne welcomed a report explaining how energy efficiency in the private sector can save business £6 billion a year, cut carbon and safeguard UK fuel-security. The result of an inquiry by Carbon Connect, the report “Energy Efficiency: The Untapped Business Opportunity” has cross-parliamentary party approval and backing from across the private sector.

The report describes how business can reduce their energy use and makes 15 recommendations for how central government and the private sector can work together to implement an “Energy Management Hierarch” and focus on greenhouse gas reporting, project financing, skills and support to SMEs, alongside the role of the commercial property sector.

Only last week, the United Nation’s called for 2% of worldwide income to be invested in an energy-efficient “green economy”. The UK already has a framework of incentives to encourage the generation of renewable energy. If government and the private sector follow the recommendations of this report, the UK can develop a thriving market for investment in energy efficiency too. Through this, business can help the drive towards a low-carbon United Kingdom.

Carbon Connect is an independent not-for-profit coalition, which seeks to examine the key challenges and opportunities resulting from the transition to a low carbon economy. For more information, see http://www.policyconnect.org.uk/cc

Obviously energy saving is an enormous subject to tackle head on for any business. At 1E we pride ourselves in being the market leader in Energy Efficient IT solutions such as our PC Power Management software which has to date reduced worldwide carbon emissions by over 4,500 million tons.

New Cloud Data Centers – More Energy Please!

Couple of examples this week that data center computing is moving ‘closer to the Cloud’ (if that’s the right term) as we saw some very large projects emerging to service the growing demand for Cloud type services.

China is building a city-sized cloud computing and office complex that will include a mega data center, one of the projects fueling that country’s double-digit growth in IT spending.

The entire complex will cover some 6.2 million square feet, with the initial data center space accounting for approximately 646,000 square feet,

In sheer scale, this project, first announced late last month, is nearly the size of the Pentagon, although in China’s case it is spread over multiple buildings similar to an office park and may include some residential areas. See the full story from the Computerworld blog here.

Also announced was a large development in Portugal which will double the country’s data center capacity in one fell swoop! Portugal Telecom said it is building one of Europe’s largest data centers, with more than 45,000 sq m of operational space for 50,000 servers and covering two levels. The data center’s main focus will be on storage but it will also be used to support communications and cloud computing services offered by Portugal Telecom.

As each new datacenter seems to be bigger and better than the last, are we seeing a move towards super-hub type facilities? The world’s insatiable desire for more access to anything from anywhere, more storage and more computing power on every device sometimes seems never ending. But who picks up the power bill? At the moment we are still heavily reliant on fossil fuels, and these huge facilities need a lot of juice..

In the case of the Portugal project, data center will be powered using an adjacent wind farm, according to reports, but this is not the norm. If we reach a point where energy is in short supply (and that scenario is closer than you might think), who takes priority? Do these new giants have an Achilles heel? The term ‘single point of failure’ spring to mind here, and although I’m sure that energy usage has been factored into these designs, it’s a rapidly changing world these days and we can’t just keep adding capacity without thinking about where the power comes from.

Of course we have good examples out there and some far thinking companies are build their centers near to sources of renewable energy such as hydro etc.

Surely it makes sense to make sure that projects like these mega-datacenters have their own power source, like the Cambridge Elean Data Campus which has it’s own renewable Combined Heat and Power (CHP) energy source right next door.

With Facebook coming under renewed attack from Greenpeace over it’s reliance on coal-fired energy, this issue will only become more high profile. Although these new Cloud facilities are impressive, and generally packed with the latest energy efficiency technologies such as server power management and efficient cooling and water usage, they still need huge amounts of power to run. In the future I hope to see more companies taking the bull by the horns and powering their own shops with their own (renewable) juice!

The Data Center of the Future

As time goes on, data centers are moving more and more towards green technologies in an effort to become as efficient and carbon neutral as possible. Ultimately however, we are going to reach a critical point where green technology is no longer able to meet the electrical and infrastructure demands of a modern data center and I honestly believe we are already close. Google has already done the almost impossible; an average PUE of just 1.2 across its facilities with its sights firmly set on 1.1 in the near future. How they achieved this is detailed in the article ‘How low can you go?‘. In short, this means that for every watt of grid electricity used to power the IT equipment, only 0.2 watts is required to run the facility and the closer we get to 1.0 (or zero watts required to run the facility), the more difficult things become.

Despite the fact that the likes of Google and Facebook are seemingly making monthly breakthroughs in data center efficiency, there is going to come a point where we simply cannot go any lower due to the fact that data centers (in most cases) need some sort of infrastructure in addition to the IT equipment. This can range from building management systems, fans and chillers, down to lighting and running water. All of these represent an overhead. The biggest overhead today remains cooling. Regardless of how you are keeping your servers cool; free-air, sea water or old fashioned air conditioners, you still need power to run the cooling system and for the most part, that power comes straight from the grid. Not necessarily for long though.

University of Arizona physicists have discovered a new way of turning waste heat into electrical power. Using a theoretical model of a ‘molecular thermoelectric device’, it may be possible to re-use probably the biggest emission from most data centers today; hot air. According to Justin Bergfield, a doctoral candidate in the UA College of Optical Sciences and lead author of an article in the scientific journal, ACS Nano, “Thermoelectricity makes it possible to cleanly convert heat directly into electrical energy in a device with no moving parts,”. The technology works in a similar way to how noise-cancelling headphones are able to reduce background noise; a process called ‘quantum interference’ where two opposing but equal waves cancel each other out. In this case, the way in which the device (a sandwich of two electrodes with a molecular ‘forest’ filling) works is by encouraging the buildup of voltage between the two electrodes when quantum interference occurs and a heat source is present.

The technology is currently only in the theoretical stage but has the potential to increase efficiency across a wide-range of applications including manufacturing and automotive. It also represents a real opportunity to dramatically increase the efficiency of data centers where these devices would be used to capture the hot exhaust from the servers and covert it to energy to power the IT load. This could be exploited to a point where a data center could exist ‘off the grid’ or even further where it is able to provide energy back to the grid which would be especially beneficial in particularly power stretched areas such as New York City which are running over capacity.

Clearly at this point, the technology is largely a pipe-dream but it is extremely encouraging to see that research such as this provides us real hope for the future…

One Man’s Cow Poo…

I attended a funeral recently, of a farming neighbour who passed away at the ripe old age of 82. The local Vicar was a great friend of Bill’s and Bill used to mow the grass around the church. One day Bill was cycling past the vicarage and the vicar was sweeping leaves outside. ‘Look at me Bill, with all my ecclesiastical training and here I am, a road sweeper.’ To which Bill replied ‘Don’t worry Vicar, I’ve been a toilet attendant to a bunch of cows for the last 60 years!’ He will be missed…

Talk turns dirty
At the wake in the village pub we were laughing at that amusing anecdote about Bill (and others that cannot be reprinted here) and talking about cow poo, as farmers do after a couple of drinks.  As farms amalgamate and herd sizes increase, the handling of waste becomes a bigger problem too. Of course you want to make use of the nutrients in manure but in Winter the land is usually too wet to get out and spread it so we have to store it somewhere. One of my neighbours is about to build a new one million litre store at quite a cost, and this seems to be a necessary trend as new anti-pollution laws are dictating how this waste is stored in order to prevent pollution of our rivers and watercourses.

However, as the saying goes, ‘one man’s cow poo is another man’s fuel’. You haven’t heard that one? Well read on.
Biogas production from farm (and other) waste is an exciting technology that seems to have a much higher uptake in some parts of the world than others. Here’s the principle – you take any type of organic waste, cow poo, food waste, plants etc, and you place it into an anaerobic digester. This is an airtight chamber, essentially the same environment as a cow’s rumen (stomach) in which the ‘digestion’ process takes place. The product of this process is biogas, which is mostly methane, and which can be either burned as gas, or used to produce electricity.

This technology has been in use in China for  over 30 years , with many  farms and rural households making this their only source of energy other than the sun. In Germany too the adoption of biogas has been promising due partly to the state’s financial support of the small scale renewables sector. In the US however uptake has been slower because the subsidies received by biogas production are a lot less that hose for wind or solar.

Why should be care what happens to our cow’s poo I hear you ask? Well there are two reasons really. Firstly it’s just an efficient way of generating energy from a fuel source that is plentiful (unlike fossil fuels). In a way you are simply harnessing the sun’s energy that was used to grow the grass that was eaten by the cow and so on and so on. Great nutrient cycling. Another important reason for supporting this type of energy generation the fact that is it mitigating some of the methane emissions that would otherwise be contributing to global warming. Finally you end up with a by-product that is a great fertiliser. Oh, and it also reduces smells which must be a good thing if you live right next to a large dairy farm!

Small biogas plants are starting to appear all over the place now, and as well as farms, communities can benefit too. By forming an energy co-operative, some small towns are taking the bull by the horns and using local food, garden, and other wastes to power biogas plants that supply gas and/or electricity to the town.  The introduction of Feed in Tariffs (FIT) here in the UK is expected to kick start many of these types of project. FITs reward small scale generation of this type by paying a guaranteed price per KWh of electricity generated, regardless of whether you use the electricity yourself. So if you are a farm for instance, you can setup a biogas plant, use the electricity generated to power the farm dairy and export any surplus to the grid. The beauty of FITs is that you get paid for everything that you generate regardless of whether you use it or not.

One Scottish farmer is already planning to power a fleet of milk delivery vehicles using electricity from his biogas plant as well as powering all of the milking equipment on the farm.
In the future I can foresee many other projects of this type on both small and large scales. It’s such a great all round technology, you never know, next time you go to turn on a light, there may just be a cow somewhere to thank for it!