Hydrogen fuel systems are a promising backup power supply solution for data centres, according to a study released this week by data centre operator Equinix and the National University of Singapore (NUS).
The project is one of the first to study proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and/or alternate generator technologies as a more environmentally friendly backup power supply option for data centres.
The study looked at different alternative power supplies’ reliability, cost, operating conditions, and environmental impact. Each system was evaluated based on technical characteristics such as temperature limitations, start-up times, efficiency, fuel flexibility, total cost of ownership, and net present cost.
Developing alternate renewable energy sources is critical for data centres, which consumed an estimated 1 to 1.5 per cent of global electricity use. As the demand for Internet services continues to grow, so will the expansion of the data centre industry.
Green hydrogen is seen as a promising fuel for backup power supply that can lessen dependency on non-renewable fuel-driven generators, as it is a clean fuel that produces only water, leaving no residue in the air, unlike coal and oil.
Hydrogen fuel cells are also promising as a dependable backup power source to allow data centres to stay online, as an alternative to weather-dependent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
Furthermore, the development of hydrogen technologies may result in a robust energy security buffer, reducing the impact of unanticipated power outages and reliance on nonrenewable backup fuel sources.
This feasibility study aligns with Singapore’s national hydrogen strategy and provides actionable insights for global data centre sustainability, said Associate Professor Lee Poh Seng, director for the Centre for Energy Research and Technology at the NUS College of Design and Engineering.
“PEM fuel cells and other generator technologies are highlighted in our review as possible backup power sources, particularly in tropical areas,” he noted.
“This collaboration is an important step toward a more sustainable digital economy, and we look forward to expanding our engagement with Equinix to have a greater effect locally, regionally, and worldwide,” he added.
The feasibility research analyses key parameters of proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and other hydrogen-fueled generator technologies, which provides insight into the best system to build and run as a sustainable backup power supply for data centres.
A second installment of report will examine the costs of larger-scale data centres or facilities with higher energy demands (24 megawatts) on continuous-use (prime power) applications.
This collaboration “demonstrates the wealth of innovation and R&D talent available in Singapore,” said Yee May Leong, managing director for South Asia at Equinix.
“Representing a cumulative and concerted effort to drive meaningful impact in sustainability for the data centre industry, the results are also a promising development for Singapore’s hydrogen aspirations,” she said.
In 2021, Equinix was the first data centre company globally to commit to being climate neutral by 2030 for its entire global footprint, in line with an authorised near-term science-based target.
Last year, Equinix had invested a total of US$45 million in energy efficiency projects worldwide, which resulted in an annual energy consumption reduction of approximately 69,000 megawatt hours and a 5.5 per cent year-on-year decrease in power usage effectiveness (PUE) – reaching a global annual average of 1.46.