IT Brief New Zealand - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
Story image
Equinix and NUS study hydrogen fuel’s viability for data centres
Thu, 5th Oct 2023

Developing alternate renewable power sources is vital to maintaining uptime for data centres, ensuring global connectivity and business continuity remain uninterrupted. Equinix, the digital infrastructure company, together with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Centre for Energy Research and Technology (CERT) under the College of Design and Engineering (CDE) at the National University of Singapore (NUS), has announced the results of their green hydrogen fuel technology study.

As one of the world’s first research projects to explore proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and/or alternate generator technologies as environmentally viable backup power supply options for data centres, the study assessed various types of alternative power supplies and their reliability, cost, operating conditions and environmental impact. 

Several systems that can feasibly utilise hydrogen as an energy source were spotlighted as potentially viable alternative solutions that operate on renewable energy. Based on specified conditions, environmental factors and operating requirements, data centre operators can now access additional insights to help make an informed decision when implementing alternate fuel supply systems.

Hydrogen fuel cells have emerged as a potentially dependable solution to address the intermittent nature of weather-dependent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. When renewable energy generation fluctuates due to dynamic weather conditions, hydrogen fuel systems could act as an efficient backup power source so that data centres stay online. 

Further developing hydrogen technologies could create a robust energy security buffer that reduces the effect of unpredictable power interruptions and dependence on non-renewable backup fuel sources.

“It’s exciting to see the collaboration between Equinix and the NUS CDE yield formative research that has led to insightful findings for alternate fuel sources. This also demonstrates the wealth of innovation and R&D talent available in Singapore. 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. We will continue to work with CDE to accelerate disruptive technologies that can reduce the carbon footprint of global data centres, particularly in tropical locations,” says Yee May Leong, managing director for South Asia at Equinix. 

“The feasibility study with Equinix aligns with Singapore's national hydrogen strategy and provides actionable insights for global data centre sustainability. Our analysis highlights PEM fuel cells and alternate generator technologies as promising backup power solutions, especially in tropical climates. This collaboration marks a significant step toward a sustainable digital economy, and we look forward to extending our partnership with Equinix for broader impact locally, regionally and globally,” says Associate Professor Lee Poh Seng, Director, Centre for Energy Research and Technology, NUS College of Design and Engineering.

“By partnering with Equinix, we were able to unlock new research opportunities that explore alternative green solutions to power data centres. Continued research will contribute to the development of hydrogen-fueled alternative power sources in Singapore, one that could potentially be applied globally as well,” adds Associate Professor Sanjib Kumar Panda from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, NUS College of Design and Engineering.

Some of the highlights mentioned in the study are as follows.

To reduce reliance on non-renewable fuel-driven generators as backup power supplies, the study performs a comprehensive analysis of several on-site power generation technologies that could be used as data centre backup power supplies. Each system was evaluated based on technical parameters that include temperature limits, start-up times, efficiency, fuel flexibility, the total cost of ownership and net present cost.

The feasibility study compares key metrics of proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and alternative generator technologies based on hydrogen fuel to inform data centre operators regarding the optimal system to implement and operate as a viable backup power supply. The second instalment of the report will explore the costs associated with larger-scale data centres or facilities with higher energy demands (24 megawatts) on continuous use (prime power) applications.

Meanwhile, Equinix also shared the company’s vision towards green energy.

Equinix operates 250 data centres across 71 metros, providing digital infrastructure for more than 10,000 of the world’s leading businesses. It achieved 96% renewables coverage for the entire 2022 operational load, marking the fifth consecutive year with over 90% renewables coverage.

Fuel cells are essential to Equinix's strategy to achieve cleaner energy, resiliency and energy security. By the end of 2022, Equinix deployed 43.5 megawatts (MW) of fuel cells in the USA and has plans to install additional capacity globally, targeting to have over 75MW of reliable and efficient power in operation by the end of 2024.

In 2022, Equinix invested a total of US$45 million toward energy efficiency projects globally, resulting in an associated annual energy consumption reduction of approximately 69,000 MW hours and a 5.5% year-on-year reduction in power usage effectiveness (PUE), reaching a global annual average of 1.46.

In 2021, Equinix became the first global data centre company to commit to climate neutrality by 2030 for its entire global footprint aligned with an approved near-term science-based target.