The regional Victorian centre of Bendigo is on track for a green-tinged boost to its internet services, with a site selected for development of a solar and battery powered data centre, by off-grid data centre specialist, Edge Centres.
Edge Centres, which launched its first “off-grid” data centre in the New South Wales Northern Rivers city of Gratfon in April this year, said it had lodged a development application for the site of what will be its third built-from-scratch solar and battery-backed facility in Australia.
As well as Grafton (known as EC1), which is powered by a 1MW on-site solar system and “48 hours” of lithium iron phtosphate battery storage back-up, Edge is also behind solar and battery powered data centres in Dubbo (EC4) in the Orana region of NSW, and in Toowoomba in Queensland (EC2).
The Bendigo facility, EC3, will have 300kW of on-site solar and a 240kWh battery storage system, and forms the latest in a string of green data centres – eight to start with – the company is rolling out around Australia (it has acquired the rights to three existing centres throughout regional Queensland to which it will add solar and is building another Hobart).
Jonathan Eaves, Edge Centres’ founder, says the company’s driving force is to bridge the “digital divide” between metro and regional Australia, where the cost of being at the network edge is paid in sometime much higher priced internet – and to do so sustainably.
The near-term plan for Australia is to build a network of around 20 solar and battery powered data centres all up and down the eastern sea board, from “Cairns to Geelong,” Eaves told One Step Off The Grid this week.
There are also plans in motion to build the company’s first “off-grid” data centre in regional Japan this year, with the solar installation there to begin next month.
The use of the “” around the words off-grid is to indicate that while the aim is for all of Edge Centres’ facilities to be 100% renewable powered, the very nature of the service they provide means either a connection to the grid, or a back-up diesel gen-set, is a feature at each site – at least for now.
This is almost as much for practical reasons as to reassure customers, Eaves told One Step – so far the company has not had to resort to either form of back-up at any of its Australian centres, although it has come close in Grafton after a couple of cloudy days in a row.
Equally as challenging as a clouds – the company has since built a solftware application called it calls “cloud cover” to manage this particular variable – has been the attitude of some “naysayers” who initially question the ability of energy hyngry data centres to run smoothly on renewables.
“We’ve had customers say ‘Oh wow, solar power, cool!…. Can I have utility?,” Eaves told One Step. “And the fact is, in our world there’s limitations. Being a data centre we have to be fault tolerant.”
Hence the use of either back-up grid connection or diesel generation. But Eaves is confident that as the grid greens up and other energy storage technologies such as vanadium-flow batteries come down the cost curve, there will be less and less need to resort to non-renewable power.
“We’re all for supporting new innovation – especially for battery storage because that’s our lifeblood,” Eaves said, noting that the company was also keen to tap the used electric vehicle battery technology of Relectrify in the future, when circumstances aligned for all parties.
In the meantime, for Edge Centres, it has so far proven cheaper – and much faster – to build a solar and battery-based off-grid power supply at greenfield sites for its new data centres, than to connect to the grid.
“Going to greenfield sites anywhere in Australia, the application process to get power generally takes at least six months, which means that to roll these out efficiently was impossible, without going off grid,” Eaves said.
“We’re bringing highly sustainable, highly reliable, off-grid digital infrastructure to the edge, and are working tirelessly to help enterprises across the country to bridge the digital divide.”