With the huge volume of information generated in the world each day, the role of data centres in modern society has become very important. Many companies are dedicated exclusively to the data centre business, hosting data and applications for other companies, and charging them a monthly fee for the service. This is very similar to the solar PPA business model, where the user purchases electricity from a photovoltaic array owned by a third party.
The flow of information never stops in the digital age, and data centre infrastructure must normally operate 24/7. This causes two significant energy expenses:
In other words, a data centre company must pay for electricity to run the servers, and also electricity to cool them down. With the high kilowatt-hour prices in Australia, the operating cost of data centres can be significant.
Data centre companies normally use low-rise buildings with ample area, since this layout simplifies the installation of servers in large numbers. A high-rise building with small floors would be impractical for a large data centre: underlying systems such as air conditioning and communications wiring are more expensive in a vertical configuration, and heavy servers must be carried to the upper floors.
Since data centre buildings tend to have ample rooftops, they can accommodate large photovoltaic arrays. Having IT equipment and space cooling systems that operate 24/7, data centres can normally consume the full output of a commercial solar system. This maximises the savings from solar power because they are not forced to export power at a reduced rate.
Also keep in mind that photovoltaic panels reduce solar heating, since sunlight is no longer reaching the roof directly after their installation. The resulting air conditioning savings from a photovoltaic array are normally equivalent to around 5% of the total solar generation.
Data centre infrastructure is a capital-intensive business, and companies may be unwilling to invest in a solar power system, when those funds can be used to deploy additional servers. For this reason, a solar PPA can be very attractive from the financial standpoint.
Going solar also provides a marketing benefit for data centre companies. Potential clients who are environmentally conscious are more likely to hire their services if they know that servers are being powered with clean electricity.