Data Center Flexibility and Renewables - with Zhang Sufang, Ye Ruiqi, and Katerina Simou

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In today's episode of Environment China, host Anders Hove hosts a special, work-related talk with Ye Ruiqi (Angel) of Greenpeace East Asia, Prof Zhang Sufang of North China Electric Power University, and Katerina Simou of the German Energy Agency (dena) about the topic of data centers, which are having an increasing effect on the environment and climate due to their rapidly rising energy consumption. In this episode, we talk not only about how data center operators are trying to go green (a topic we discussed with Angel on Environment China back in November 2019), but also the related topic of flexibility. Data center flexibility is potentially important because it enables data centers to modulate their load to better meet the needs of the grid, which in turn would enable greater uptake of renewable energy such as wind and solar. Since data centers in China are now considered one of the energy-intensive industries subject to the Dual Control policies—which limit energy consumption and energy intensity of production—data centers are already facing pressure to become more efficient. In the future, China's carbon neutrality policies will undoubtedly push data centers to adopt renewable energy to support their growing energy loads—which, in turn, will require more flexible operations.

In this podcast, Anders and his guests discuss their joint research of data center flexibility in China and Europe. The research was performed under the Sino-German Energy Transition Project, which is implemented by GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, in partnership with the China National Energy Administration, and German and Chinese implementation partners including the report's lead author, dena. The research includes interviews with industry experts and companies on topics such as time-shifting of data and cooling loads, real-time geographic shifting of loads, the pros and cons of relocating data centers to colder climates for greater cooling efficiency, and using on-site energy storage to participate in power markets. They also discuss whether the many obstacles data center operators currently see to becoming more flexible are likely to be overcome—and what policies would help.

Links:

“China 5G and Data Center Carbon Emissions Outlook 2035,” Greenpeace East Asia, 2021, at https://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/press/6608/electricity-consumption-from-chinas-digital-sector-on-track-to-increase/.

“Clean Cloud 2021, Greenpeace East Asia, 2021, at https://www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-eastasia-stateless/2021/04/03a3ce1a-clean-cloud-english-briefing.pdf.

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