Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Sunday, October 2, 2022

Turning Trash Into Renewable Energy for the Datacenter 

Renewable energy developer Vieste Energy is partnering with green building design firm ESD (Environmental Systems Design, Inc.) on a national portfolio of 100 percent renewable energy datacenters. 

Renewable energy developer Vieste Energy is partnering with green building design firm ESD (Environmental Systems Design, Inc.) on a national portfolio of 100 percent renewable energy datacenters.

But unlike the most US-based green datacenters that run on solar or wind or a mix of renewables, Vieste's facilities will run on biogas, created from waste products.

The strategy is to colocate large datacenter sites with 8-15MW gasification-based waste-to-energy facilities. In addition to generating sustainable power, the facilities will also produce chilled water for datacenter cooling.

While this zero carbon footprint building concept could provide power and cooling for all types of real estate assets, Vieste considers the datacenter space the "obvious selection" due to the "high level of energy consumption per square foot."

Master Plan reveals the first datacenter implementation will be built on an 8.5 acre plot located at 11550 West Glendale Avenue in Glendale, Arizona. In partnership with the City of Glendale, Vieste is creating a "data center style powered shell and core with available chilled water [to] be leased on a triple net basis."

In October of last year, the Glendale City Council approved the execution of a 30-year waste supply agreement that will guarantee the delivery of acceptable feedstock for a waste-to-energy facility. Located next to the city landfill and not far from the datacenter site, the facility will process 180,000 tons per year of residential municipal solid waste, resulting in 14 megawatts gross (12.5 megawatts net) of renewable energy, equivalent to the annual consumption of 4,500 single family homes.

The landfill gas-to-energy process is common in Canada and other parts of the world, but has been slow to take off in the United States. Vieste notes that funding has been secured for the first phase of the portfolio and development is under way. The energy company expects the main draw for potential customers will be competitive lease pricing since the working site should "allow for the delivery of off grid electricity at a realized price at or below the current rate plans in the greater Phoenix area."

Price may well be the main selling point, but others will come for the green cred. Increasingly, datacenter players and tech companies in general are feeling the push to "go green." Smaller players will welcome the chance to wave the green flag like the tech giants, Facebook, Google, eBay, which have all made very public commitments to energy efficiency over the last few years.

The first phase of this two-phase project will include the 171,005 square-foot powered shell and core to support any future datacenter build-out. Phase 1-B includes the construction of four data halls, and phase II will see the completion of four additional data halls. All told, the project will support 80,000 square feet of raised floor as well as a "build-to-suit" datacenter scenario offering customized solutions.

With an eye toward achieving the highest level of LEED building certification, the project will give special attention to energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. In line with this sustainability effort, only reclaimed water will be used for industrial, chilled water and power production purposes.

Initially, the datacenter will draw 12.5 MW of power from local utility provider APS. Once the renewable energy part of the project is up and running, APS will serve as a backup supplier while the renewable energy provider becomes the primary provider.

The combination of renewable energy power generation facilities and eco-friendly solid waste management results in a low PUE and a negative carbon footprint, according to Vieste.

Based on company figures, the project "is estimated to have a Total Net CO2e Emissions Savings in excess of 120,000 tonnes per year when compared against coal fired electricity and a Total Net CO2e Emissions Savings in excess of 50,000 tonnes per year when utilizing the Arizona Utility Emission Factor." 

Vieste emphasized that it has no intention of becoming a datacenter owner or operator. When the time comes it will seek a datacenter partner to take over that aspect of the business.

In the words of Mark Branaman Co-Managing Member at Vieste Energy: "We are in the business of developing and operating base load renewable energy production facilities. We selected ESD for our team because they have extensive experience and knowledge of energy and data centers. We look forward to similarly partnering with a top Data Center developer and are confident that this will be a tremendous offering to the data center industry in terms of sustainability, environmental benefit, and energy efficiency opportunities."

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