Turkcell's move to solar highlights power challenges for data centres

Here's why Turkcell is launching the first solar-powered data centre in the Middle East.

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Mobile phone operator Turkcell has launched the first solar-powered data centre in Turkey, a 12,000 square metre whitespace in Ankara that will offer cloud storage to public institutions and organisations in the country and to international clients through the company’s subsidiary, Turkcell Digital Business Solutions.

Turkcell has installed solar panel systems at the parking lot of the data centre and have also created systems to recycle rainwater to drive lower water consumption in the building and in the irrigation of the area.

Turkcell is not the first in the world to look at environmentally friendly ways to power data centres; a data centre at Goonhilly in Cornwall, U.K., is already 100% solar powered and Verne Global, a data centre provider with its campus in Iceland, uses the country’s grid power, which is generated by renewable sources such as hydroelectric, geothermal and wind, to power its centres.

But Turkcell represents a significant step forward for greener initiatives in Middle Eastern data centres. According to recent projections from Research and Markets, data centre construction in the Middle East is expected to grow 7% each year between now and 2024. This rapid rate of data centre construction will require an abundance of power, both in the Middle East and around the world, accoridng to Ryan Kennedy, CEO and co-founder of Atom Power,  a maker of power management technology.

Data centres pose environmental challenge

While much focus is aimed at industries like airlines and automotive manufacturing for their environmental impact, awareness about the need for and potential to use green energy in data centres is not as widespread. The data centre market is one of the largest single contributors to the environmental challenge, consuming about 40% more power globally than the entire consumption by the U.K, said Jim Hart, CEO of BCS (Business Critical Solutions), a systems integrator. Referring to Turkcell’s decision to go green with their data centre, Hart adds: “any such solution which has a positive effect on emissions with non-polluting power, reducing carbon footprint and increasing production credit is a good story to tell.”

Turkcell has embedded sustainability into the core of its business, said Gediz Sezgin, Turkcell CTO, adding that driving more sustainable and carbon-neutral business practices, in this sense, is imperative for all companies. “Our recent investments in the deployment of solar panels that generate 1.5 billion kWh of energy in Northern Cyprus and in other plants across Turkey help drive a positive direction towards environmental data centres and plants,” Sezgin said.

Turkcell also installed portable solar panels in its base station fields. “The real challenge on these issues is the increased investment. Payback periods, however, are now shorter than ever and cost-effective in the long run as technology advances and the industry develops further knowledge. Turkish and international companies should recognize this change and invest in these solutions as well,” Sezgin said.

For BCS' Hart, the benefits are clear. “Renewable energy solutions such as wind turbines or solar power have high start-up costs, but after this initial outlay these costs stabilise and it is just about maintaining the systems. Traditional fossil fuels also attract up-front costs for generation and transmission, but in addition to that users face ongoing price volatility," Hart said.

Old infrastructure weighs on costs

Outdated, largely analogue electrical infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle the massive amounts of power required to operate today’s data centres, Atom Power's Kennedy said.

“We lack the ability to manage or distribute the flow of power intelligently, which is not only dangerous, but poses major challenges to keeping data centres online. Power density is increasing significantly within data centres which leads to alternate methods of cooling the server racks,” he says.

Kennedy explains that in these high density environments, lots of heat is created, which data centre operators have started to combat with liquid cooling systems at the rack level. These cooling systems require redundant pumping systems and are sensitive to the quality of the incoming power. When a cooling pump loses power, the switchover to a backup source can often disrupt the operation of the cooling system, making the risk of overheating and dropping the data racks alarmingly high.

Modernizing electrical infrastructure would solve this problem by enabling the rapid transfer between various power sources, Kennedy said. By bringing the power system online, it would unlock the ability to intelligently manage how power moves through a data centre, virtually eliminating the risk of losing power. 

As data centres grow and environmental concerns remain a priority, more companies will look to greener options to power their data centres. Turkcell’s initiative, while not the first in the world, can be a useful model for the region and provide a blueprint for the deployment of these kinds of solutions.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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