One of the biggest concerns with data centers is the amount of power they consume. With the rising importance of green IT and the need to reduce the carbon footprint, any effort to reduce the consumption of energy needs to be carefully evaluated.
If data centers could generate their own power, it might result in increased capital costs, but could provide great benefits. A trigeneration scheme, if planned and implemented correctly, can result in greater ROI. Another term for trigeneration is Combined Cooling, Heating, and Power (CCHP) or "trigen". This can be used to exploit the heat energy produced by burning natural gas or coal to produce electricity with turbines. Trigeneration therefore provides cooling and heating in addition to electrical power.
The advantages of using trigeneration technology include its ability to use the heat generated for cooling. Although this technology is mature, it has not been used extensively for data centers anywhere in the world. Australia is one place that could benefit from it owing to their carbon tax and the high emissions factor of electricity.
Syracuse University's "Green Data Center" is one campus that uses trigeneration in data center operations. Registered with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the university is seeking a LEED Silver rating.
Sources indicate that trigeneration can yield efficiencies of over 80 percent, which is more than twice the efficiency offered by an average power plant. Implementing trigeneration technology could cut the fuel costs of a data center by half, depending on how much electricity the data center needs with respect to its cooling and heating needs.
However, on the flip side, it is not possible to get this much efficiency through trigeneration all the time. Factors, such as the weather could result in decreased efficiency. The need for heating and cooling, the type of cooling infrastructure used in the data center, and the size of the facility to be served are other factors that need to be considered. In several parts of the United States, free cooling is employed most of the year. This greatly reduces the practical benefits of trigeneration. In such cases, trigeneration can still be used for heating and cooling in office spaces, but may not be needed in data centers.
Trigeneration does offer a solution to the problem of wastage of heat. Although the efficiency of this technology varies depending on numerous factors, it is an opportunity for data centers-especially those keen on generating their own power-to help address issues of rising energy costs and the adverse impact of data centers on the environment.