‘Green’ Technology Takes Root in Some Data Centers

California offers rebates on solar energy costs

Phil Nail is ahead of most IT managers in adopting so-called green technologies. His company, a Web hosting firm known as AISO.Net, uses solar panels that generate 12 kilowatts of electricity to power its data center and main office.

Nail now hopes to improve the facility’s energy efficiency by putting a layer of dirt on the roof and planting drought-resistant, bush-type plants. He said it will cost AISO.Net, formally named Affordable Internet Services Online Inc., about $30,000 to cover its 2,000-square-foot roof with three to four inches of dirt and the plants.

But Nail, technology manager at Romoland, Calif.-based AISO.Net, thinks the “green” roof will cut cooling needs by half in the data center, which houses about 300 servers. For those who need to be convinced of dirt’s effectiveness, Nail’s advice is to stick their hands in some of the stuff. “It’s cool down there,” he said.

AISO.Net markets itself as an environmentally friendly company. Its home page lists the current server room temperature as well as how much carbon, nitrous and sulfur dioxides are eliminated by its solar power system each year.

California’s government wants to see many more companies adopt solar power. This month, the state began offering a $2.50-per-watt tax rebate for solar energy systems that can generate up to 1megawatt of power. It has budgeted a total of $2.9 billion for incentives over 10 years.

A ‘Tough Sell’

Globally, annual sales of solar equipment for both homes and businesses total about $15 billion, according to market research firm IDC. But it estimates that spending in the U.S. accounts for only about 10% of the overall market.

“For most companies, to invest in what is perceived as novel energy technologies is a tough sell,” said Nicholas Lenssen, an IDC analyst. “Most companies want a two-to-three-year payback. By and large, there isn’t a whole lot of interest in on-site generation.”

The costs of solar equipment are often high, making government incentives critical. For instance, a 500-kilowatt system would amount to about $3.5 million, based on an estimated cost of $7 per watt to buy and install the equipment, said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington.

California’s rebate could cut that cost by about $1.5 million, and federal tax credits would reduce it by another $1 million or so, according to Resch.

Any return on investment depends on how much a company is paying for electricity now. Resch said a six-to-eight-year payback wouldn’t be unusual for a large user.

Last fall, Sea Gull Lighting Products LLC in Riverside, N.J., began using a 500-kilowatt solar energy system that provides 20% of the power needs for a 500,000-square-foot warehouse from Monday through Friday. On weekends, the solar panels can provide all of the power needed, said Alan Hirsch, Sea Gull’s executive vice president.

The panels take up about 60,000 square feet on the warehouse’s roof, he said. SunEdison LLC, a solar services company in Baltimore, installed and owns the system. But Sea Gull pays a lower rate for the power it uses than it would be charged by a local electric utility, Hirsch said.


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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