The world’s first zero-emissions ‘natural cooling’ data center

2011-10-04 - An ABB solution is controlling what is thought to be the world’s first zero-emissions data center. Located in Iceland and powered by renewable hydropower and geothermal energy, the data center uses innovative natural cooling technology instead of power-thirsty chillers to achieve an exceptional energy efficiency level. ABB programmable logic controllers are the brain of the installation.

By ABB Communications

Strategically located in Iceland midway between Europe and North America, the Thor Data Center is a hosting and cloud storage services center situated close to the island’s capital, Reykjavik.

The facility recently opened its first 40-foot data storage container and has a second under delivery. Both containers use an innovative and patented new cooling technology developed by Spain-based AST Modular, which enables Thor DC to operate with a power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of only 1.07 – probably the lowest on record.

Known as modular natural free cooling, the patented technology uses the naturally cool outside air of the Icelandic climate to maintain the correct operating temperature and humidity level inside the sensitive data storage containers.

This, and the fact that the electricity supplied to the center comes from renewable geothermal or hydropower sources means that Thor DC offers its customers a green data storage environment with zero carbon footprint, while benefiting itself from the ultra-energy efficient ‘natural and free’ cooling technology of the AST Modular concept.

Monitoring and controlling the critical parameters in each data storage container are two ABB AC500 programmable logic controllers (PLCs).

The first AST Modular data storage container at the Thor Data Center, Iceland. Controlled by ABB AC500 PLCs, the data center is cooled by free outside air instead of by conventional energy-hungry chillers.

ABB has been providing AST Modular with programmable logic controllers for several years, and has provided PLC solutions for other AST natural free cooling data centers in Australia and Denmark, which have PUE ratios of 1.09 and 1.13 respectively.

The ABB solution consists of one active and one redundant AC500 PLC. The active PLC measures all the critical parameters in the data center – temperature, humidity, fan speed, energy consumption, fire and water detection, etc – to ensure that operating conditions within the container remain constantly optimal. The redundant PLC takes over control of the data center within just 20 milliseconds in the unlikely event of the active PLC failing.

AST Modular selected the ABB solution for its modularity, robustness and ability to provide all the required functionality necessary to ensure that the data storage centers can operate at exceptional levels of reliability and availability. ABB’s global footprint and ability to provide support and service all over the world were also vital to AST Modular’s requirements.

The AC500 is one of the world’s most widely used PLCs. Modular, scalable and flexible, the AC500 offers more memory (allowing more functionality, more precise algorithms and better visualization) than most competing PLCs. It is also one of the fastest PLCs on the market, providing faster programming, faster calculations and faster data transfer.

Screenshots of the data measured and monitored by the AC500. The data is transferred to a SCADA system and monitored from the AST Modular control room in Barcelona, Spain. The data can be accessed and alarms received by iPads, iPhones and other tablets and mobile devices.

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    One hundred percent of Iceland’s electric power is generated using renewable hydropower or geothermal energy. The image shows the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant, with the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in the foreground.

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