MGK Editor Take I: Microgrids at the Heart of Data Center Circulation

Aug. 21, 2023
In 2010, non-hyperscale cloud data center demand for energy was at about 18 terawatt hours per year, and by 2022 had expanded nearly four-fold to 69 TWh, according to IEA. In the same period, hyperscale data centers went from 10 TWh to nearly 100 TWh

Data centers are becoming the circulatory system for global economic and information systems. Correction: They are the circulation.

Frankly, we can’t function without them anymore, and they are evolving as fast or faster than our energy systems can keep up with. Data centers are getting bigger and hungrier.

The International Energy Agency has reported on the frenetic pace of that growth in statistical models going back more than a decade. While traditional data center energy demand is actually receding somewhat, hyperscale and cloud facilities are exploding in size and demand.

In 2010, non-hyperscale cloud data center demand for energy was at about 18 terawatt hours per year, and by 2022 had expanded nearly four-fold to 69 TWh, according to IEA. In the same period, hyperscale data centers went from 10 TWh to nearly 100 TWh.

That’s an untold bazillion bits of data and programming out there, crucial internet points that go well beyond the tabloid tell-all about Prince Harry and Megan. Bits and bytes are the lifeblood of the transactional world we live in on a global level. Data centers, which have consumed about 3% of the world’s power generation in the past, could need close to 4% by the decade’s end, at the same time that many energy planners are anticipating significant inroads being made on the road to net zero.

Data is the circulatory system for our informational age, and microgrids can be the heart keeping it all functional and moving.

My story leading off today’s newsletter covers infrastructure developer Fidelis New Energy’s plans for a West Virginia complex combining data centers with natural gas, hydrogen power generation and renewable energy to supply them. The $5 billion project is intended to deliver low-carbon and sustainable data centers, with hydrogen being generated to deliver baseload, carbon-free power.

Microgrid Knowledge has long covered the challenges of meeting data center energy needs, from the dense footprint of facilities in Virginia and D.C. areas, to challenges all over the planet. Renewable and low-carbon microgrids are seen as true answers to balance the data-energy imbalance, while giving those centers an on-site energy solution far less problematic than purely fossil-fired generators.

Those untold bazillion bits, my little scientific term, need unknown future bazillion megawatts of power to supply them securely and locally. Companies such as Microsoft, Fidelis and others are keenly aware of this and are making plans for future on-site power supplies that bridge clean energy, efficiency and resiliency goals.

“There were 5 exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003,” Google’s former Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt once said. “But that much information is now created every two days.”

Some have challenged the specifics of that grandiose quote, but the point is well taken. The gentle stream of data has become a torrent blowing right past flood stage to Ark-ready status. Energy and microgrids must be built to keep the Information Age afloat.

Rod Walton is a 15-year veteran of covering the energy industry, first as a newspaper journalist covering the oil and gas  industry to stints covering various aspects of the electric power sector with POWERGRID International, Power Engineering and EnergyTech. He became managing editor of Microgrid Knowledge in June.

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About the Author

Rod Walton, Managing Editor | Managing Editor

For Microgrid Knowledge editorial inquiries, please contact Managing Editor Rod Walton at [email protected].

I’ve spent the last 15 years covering the energy industry as a newspaper and trade journalist. I was an energy writer and business editor at the Tulsa World before moving to business-to-business media at PennWell Publishing, which later became Clarion Events, where I covered the electric power industry. I joined Endeavor Business Media in November 2021 to help launch EnergyTech, one of the company’s newest media brands. I joined Microgrid Knowledge in July 2023. 

I earned my Bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. My career stops include the Moore American, Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, Wagoner Tribune and Tulsa World, all in Oklahoma . I have been married to Laura for the past 33-plus years and we have four children and one adorable granddaughter. We want the energy transition to make their lives better in the future. 

Microgrid Knowledge and EnergyTech are focused on the mission critical and large-scale energy users and their sustainability and resiliency goals. These include the commercial and industrial sectors, as well as the military, universities, data centers and microgrids. The C&I sectors together account for close to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Many large-scale energy users such as Fortune 500 companies, and mission-critical users such as military bases, universities, healthcare facilities, public safety and data centers, shifting their energy priorities to reach net-zero carbon goals within the coming decades. These include plans for renewable energy power purchase agreements, but also on-site resiliency projects such as microgrids, combined heat and power, rooftop solar, energy storage, digitalization and building efficiency upgrades.

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