Victory in the the war of the currents – alternating (Nikola Telsa & Westinghouse Company) vs direct (Thomas Edison, Edison Electric) – may have been claimed long ago by the AC/Tesla camp, but we could probably chalk up a small win for team DC this week, with the news that Swiss IT company greenDatacenter has announced plans for the world’s most powerful direct current data center. Earth & Industry reports that the measure – aimed at improving the company’s already impressive PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness, or the balance between server power consumption and the power consumption of the entire data center) – will involve Green running a portion of its servers purely on DC, reducing the need to transform energy between alternating current and direct current, and thus cutting the heat this transformation process generates. With DC-capable servers from HP and DC technology from ABB, greenDatacenter hopes to save 10-20 per cent on energy costs.
“To many people, the cloud is in a way a very esoteric concept. People think that because they’re carrying these little objects around that it doesn’t affect the environment,” said Dr Anne Wiggins of EcoCloud. “The fact that all this information is streaming down to me personally and to hundreds of millions of people around the world… It uses a lot of energy.” As Earth & Industry points out, some data centers get around this problem by using natural underground reservoirs to cool their servers. Others are turning to renewables – like Apple, and NEXTDC here in Melbourne, who have installed solar PV arrays at various of their data centres. But considering Earth & Industry‘s calculation that for a 10MW fully DC data center, companies could save the equivalent of the energy generated by a 1.5MW wind turbine, the direct current server solution might just take off.
Giving people the power
More energy saving solutions now, this time generated by two “savvy students” from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies. The University last week announced that the two PhDs, Mahboobeh Mogaddham and Waiho Wong, have designed something they call the ‘MyPower Energy Platform,’ which monitors major household appliances – washing machines, clothes dryers, microwaves, electrical water heaters, refrigerators – via a smart plug with an embedded GSM unit, thus helping consumers decide how and when to use or replace said appliances. “The plugs sense actual power usage and transmit the information via SMS reports to a cloud-based data warehouse every 30 minutes,” explains Wong. “The householder can then access their electricity consumption data and drill down to individual appliances’ cost based on peak, shoulder and off-peak rates, through the MyPower website.”
The technology has been awarded the inaugural NASSCOM IT Technical Innovation Award, with judges describing it as “an example of practical innovation in taking a number of proven technology components and tackling a pressing issue” – the pressing issue being cutting household power consumption (and thus bills, and carbon emissions). “The proposed solution ‘MyPower Energy Platform’ captures highly disaggregated data at the appliance level and transforms it into actionable knowledge via analytics-based applications,” said the PhD pair’s supervisor, Professor Joseph Davis, who is Director of the Knowledge Discovery and Management Research Group at the University. Professor Davis says the platform has the potential to be used by both manufactures and governments to develop incentive schemes for households to replace older, high-consumption appliances or to support education and awareness campaigns around energy efficiency and green house gas reduction.
Canal power, take 2
Not long ago we looked at the potential for marrying solar energy technology with canals. This week, Grist.org has checked on the progress of a slightly more obvious canal-renewables option – small-scale hydro. Grist‘s John Upton writes that a “bright yellow turbine resembling a 15-foot roll of Scotch tape was dropped into the gushing waterway near Yakima, Washington, in March,” to test the potential of turning canals into renewable energy power plants. Upton says the prototype hydrokinetic turbine is an archetype of an emerging technology that has been invented and manufactured by Seattle-based start-up, Hydrovolts. How does it work? Much like any other turbine technology; they spin, due to the flow of the water, and thus generate electricity.
The company’s founder and CEO, Burt Hamner, says the turbines, which are individually capable of powering several homes (generating around 8kW at times), are expected to sell for $US20,000 each when they reach the market within the next couple of years. And while canal-based hydrokinetic devices are unlikely to become a major power source – “this technology is not for powering towns,” Hamner said. “It’s for powering homes and farms and villages” – they still have huge potential. “There are huge regions of the world that are irrigated, where they have built these highways of water,” said Hamner. “We’ve found a way to make a little power off it without any environmental impact.”
Indeed, the US Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates thousands of miles of canals, released a report in April detailing how more than 500 of its canals could be tapped to produce new supplies of electricity, says Upton. The report followed a 2010 MoU between the departments of Interior and Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers to work together to expand hydropower in the US. Hamner says Hydrovolts will be targeting the American West, India, Pakistan, China, Australia, Brazil, and wherever else you find canals.