Keeping it Green

Data centres turn to solar power to reduce their carbon footprint

By Ashay Abbhi

India is rapidly becoming a data centre hub, with many multinational IT corporations setting up shop in the country. The increasing penetration of internet services in India has propelled the growth of data centres. Data centres are known for being power intensive. Computing processes consume a large amount of electricity, so do system cooling processes. The increasing number of data centres in the country will put greater pressure on the grid, making power management a challenge. To reduce their carbon footprint and make their operations sustainable, data centres are looking to reduce their dependence on coal-based power and switch to solar power.

According to Cushman and Wakefield, the data centre sector in India is expected to reach a market size of $7 billion by 2020, up from around $2 billion in 2018. With this expansion, the area covered by data centres will increase from 10.9 million square feet in 2018 to about 30 million square feet in 2025. Further, the emerging wave of hyperscale data centres is expected to take over around 90 per cent of the market by 2030. Globally, the number of hyperscale data centres has increased from around 250 in 2015 to 450 in 2018. As per the International Data Corporation, hyperscale data centres are those with over 10,000 square feet of area and 5,000 collocated servers. Catering to such  data centres in a sustainable manner will need significant solar and renewable energy-based power generation.

A look at some of the data centres that are turning to solar power to meet their energy requirements…

Netmagic

In November 2018, Netmagic announced its plans to set up solar power capacity to run its data centres in Mumbai. A division of Japan-based NTT Communications, Netmagic has one of the largest data centre operations in India, providing managed hosting and multi-cloud hybrid IT solutions. In July 2019, the company announced a partnership with Tata Power to set up a 50 MW solar power plant in Solapur, Maharashtra. Till now, Netmagic has been procuring renewable power through open access for its data centres in Chennai and Bengaluru, and this will be the first solar power plant owned by the company. The objective of setting up this capacity is not only to meet its green energy requirements, but also to optimise operational costs by saving on grid-based power. Moreover, the solar power plant is expected to reduce carbon emissions by over 70,000 tonnes per annum.

The power to its data centres will be provided through open access under a long-term PPA. According to Tata Power, definitive agreements to supply 50 MW of solar power have been signed between Netmagic and Poolawadi Windfarm Limited, a subsidiary of Tata Power Renewable Energy Limited. The capacity will be built in a phased manner. Initially, 35 MW of capacity will be developed while another 15 MW will be installed within 24 months of commissioning. Netmagic’s parent company recently announced its plans to expand its data centre operations in the country. It will be opening three new facilities in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Chennai.

Adani Group

The Adani Group has announced its plans to build the world’s first data centre to be fully powered by solar energy. In January 2019, the company signed an MoU with the Andhra Pradesh government in Vijayawada. As per the MoU, the Adani Group committed to invest Rs 700 billion over a period of 20 years to build three data centres and a 5 GW solar power park. Of this, Rs 100 billion will be invested in the first phase of development. For this purpose, 100 acres of land has been acquired by the company in Kapuluppada, Vishakhapatnam. However, in August 2019, the state government asked the company to submit a revised proposal due to land issues. The company had asked for 500 acres of land at a prime location, following which the government has suggested building the data centre and the solar power plant at an alternative location. The solar power plant will be located at various locations around Vishakhapatnam, making it the first renewable energy driven data centre project in the world. This also marks the company’s entry into the data management space, for which it can leverage its extensive energy management and project development experience.

CtrlS

An Indian data centre company, CtrlS launched a green data centre in Bengaluru in February 2018. This data centre facility will be run on solar power. CtrlS has seven data centres in the country, located in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Noida, Bengaluru and Chennai, with a cumulative data centre area of over 1 million square feet. CtrlS is expected to increase the area under its data centres to 5 million square feet by 2020. It has announced plans to invest Rs 20 billion in setting up three hyperscale data centres in the country – a 150 MW data centre in Hyderabad, a 100 MW data centre in Mumbai and a 70 MW data centre in Chennai.

CtrlS aims to reduce the carbon footprint of all its data centres. To this end, it is planning to develop hybrid-powered data centres that will draw electricity partly from solar and partly from conventional sources. It plans to utilise building-integrated PV technology for this purpose by covering the exterior of the data centre buildings with solar panels. In 2018, the company had also announced plans to develop 20 MW of captive solar power capacity, to meet around 98 per cent of the facility’s power requirement. The project is estimated to be built at an investment of Rs 90 million.

Hiranandani Group

The Hiranandani Group has entered the data centre business in India with the launch of Yotta in July 2019. Reportedly, the company is looking to invest Rs 150 billion over a period of five to seven years to set up data centres in Panvel and Mumbai. Interestingly, two of NTT-Netmagic’s large data centres were built by the Hiranandani Group. The company aims to reduce the cost of data centres by 20 per cent. It has the required construction expertise, power efficiency and land to build large data centres in the country. The company’s data centre parks will be built on an area of 50 acres with a server hall capacity of over 60,000 racks and 500 MW of power requirement. The first data centre is expected to come online by December 2019 in Panvel. To meet its power requirements and minimise the carbon footprint of its data centre, the Hiranandani Group’s Yotta will be setting up a 60 MW solar power plant in Maharashtra. It has plans to commission 30 MW of this capacity by early 2020.

Outlook

India’s grid-based power is highly unreliable and not sufficient to meet the needs of large industries. Thus, an increasing number of commercial and industrial establishments are migrating to alternative modes of power procurement such as captive solar power- and renewables-based open access. Data centre operations require a large amount of uninterrupted power, and grid-based power may not always be available. Moreover, the high cost of industrial power from discoms significantly increases the operating costs of data centres. As a result, data centres in the country are turning to solar power to meet their electricity requirements, reduce downtime, and improve the sustainability of the otherwise power-guzzling data centres. Just like the Indian solar power segment, the Indian data centre market is on the verge of rapid expansion. The convergence of these two critical segments, with the development of solar-powered data centres, is likely to benefit both in the long term.

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