Big Data Centers

By | July 1, 2012

EBay’s New Data Center Will Be Powered 100 Percent by Fuel Cells – Green Retail Decisions. – 2012 June 28

EBay is building a new data center in South Jordan, Utah that will be off-grid (with a backup connection to the local grid).  The power source will be 30 natural-gas based fuel cells manufactured by Bloom Energy. (South Jordan is located off of Interstate 15 about 30 miles south of the Salt Lake City Airport and 30 miles north of Provo.)

Per a TriplePundit article on 2012 May 8, Bloom Energy manufactures their Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) in Sunnyvale, and is building a new plant on a former Chrysler assembly site in Newark, Delaware. Their cells can run on fuels other than natural gas. (The new Apple data center in North Carolina will use Bloom Boxes powered with biogas.)

One disadvantage of the cells is that they run at very high temperatures. Per weather.com, the average daily high temperature in July is 96 degrees F, and the average daily low temperature in January and December is 25 degrees (with an average daily highs of 41 and 42).  The record low is -17 (in December 1990), and the record high is 111 (in July 1998).

As with many other new data centers, I question the sustainability of EBay’s new data center. This also leads me to wonder the amount of unused and underutilized data center space, the sustainability of multiple moderately-sized vs. one large data center, the tradeoffs between new construction and retrofitting existing data centers or other industrial facilities, and the politics of site-selection.

2012 November 13 Marketplace story on Google’s data centers in Lenoir, North Carolina states that Google got about $260 million in incentives (over the next 30 years) but directly employs only about 115 people.  The segment does not discuss local tax collection (not applicable due to the incentive package?) or indirect employment.  Possibly the non-labor inputs to the data centers – including power – are not locally sourced; sounds like local restaurants haven’t benefited and the 115 people on staff may include the (Google) cafeteria workers.  Labor inputs to the data center such as janitorial services may be from the local community but could also be sourced from within the larger geographic area.  It would be interesting to compare in present dollars the aggregate direct and indirect wages paid to people from Lenoir by the furniture manufacturers who previously occupied the facilities as compared to Google (and Facebook and Apple), and to compare the net present value and future value realized by Lenoir of wages and taxes less incentives.  Is there a more sustainable use for those former furniture manufacturing facilities?  Is this akin to building a football stadium or bringing in Wal-Mart?  (There’s another analogy that escapes me at the moment.)


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