The age of peak fossil?
"Peak oil" has been all the rage for about a year or so, a point where world oil production will peak and then slowly start to decline. Expensive production projects, such Canadian oil sands, are being sold off by Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips, with anticipation that the price per barrel for oil will be around $50 for a decade or more. Saudi Arabia -- the kingdom built on oil -- is spending $50 billion dollars over the next decade to build a portfolio of renewable energy. Meanwhile, coal takes a beating while renewable power ramps up around the globe. Are we in the age of peak fossil fuel usage and we don't know it?
Saudi Arabia, this week, reiterated its goal to produce 10 percent of its power from renewables by 2023, reports Bloomberg. Thirty (30) solar and wind projects are expected to generate almost 10 gigawatts of power, enabling the kingdom to cut domestic use of oil on electrical production.
Can green data centers be far behind? Certainly, the high-value/low-personnel overhead features of data centers make them attractive businesses. Saudi Arabia wants to diversify its portfolio from simply oil to a variety of businesses, similar to Iceland's move from aluminum to data centers. If Intel comes through on efforts to raise data center operational temperatures to 95 degrees F (35 degrees C) or better, a green data center in Saudi Arabia isn't a paradox, but an opportunity.
The symbolic canary in the coal industry may be the Kentucky Coal Museum. The eastern Kentucky organization is installing 80 solar panels on its roof in order to save money on power bills. Once installed, the project is expected to save between $8,000 to $10,000 per year on the electric bills. Two more local solar panel sites are in the works, with all projects being sponsored by the municipal utility.
If the local utility in the heart of coal country is open to installing solar panels to save money, what does this auger for the coal industry as a whole? The move is being driven by the unyielding force of economics, where green cash trumps hot political air.
But it isn't just day-to-day economics which are bringing renewables to Kentucky, but future jobs in the state. For new data center builds by big brands such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google, access to local renewable power is a must. Large corporations have signaled their state-based locations need renewable power, reports NPR, leading the Kentucky Public Services Commission to say it would be open to cut a deal to provide it.
The East Kentucky Power Cooperative is already in the process of building a 60-acre solar farm with 32,000 panels, driven in part by local business demand and part by concerns about future carbon regulations. Toyota's plant in central Kentucky is capturing methane from a local landfill for power generation and is looking at installing solar panels.
Coal isn't disappearing from Kentucky tomorrow, but if there's a canary of usage flying about, it has a little bit of uncertainty in one of its major U.S. producers. How long can the coal canary fly before its wings are clipped by a combination of economics and large business demand for renewables?
Green data centers have to be prepared to evolve with the times. As renewables move into the mainstream, the bar for green operations will move upward to encompass facility water usage and equipment lifecycle usage. Some are already water aware/sensitive, especially with HVAC equipment, but few -- including the big brands -- have implemented a transparent cradle-to-grave equipment policy. It's time to start asking your vendors now if they have strong recycling policies or simply plan to let loose old equipment on the secondary market.
Image from: digitalresearch.eiu.com