Green Power’s Positives


When I was in architecture school, we had a semester where ideas that revolved around solar power were explored.  The timing could not have been better as the assignment was right on the heels of hurricane Katrina.  At that time, solar power was not as cost competitive as it is today, and it still has a ways to go.  As part of our due diligence when considering this system, we brought in a vendor, and he said something that I would always remember: “It’s nice to get a smaller electricity bill than all of my neighbors, but I know these reductions won’t pay for the system, even after tax rebates.  The real value is when I have power and my neighbors don’t because they rely on the power grid.”

It’s truly anyone’s guess as to whether a solar power plant or wind farm will pay off in the long run.  For all anyone knows, there could be a massive oil reserve discovered next year driving down the costs of energy.  In the short term, it appears that green power simply costs more than traditional forms like coal and oil.  For data center users, this matters because a small shift in the costs per kilowatt hour can translate into large sums of expenditures from operations that consume quite a lot of electricity.  However, in spite of the fact that green power is generally more costly at present, more and more data centers are looking hard at this technology.

If it costs more money, why the interest?  It might be for several reasons.  First, it is a power supply that can be entirely under the control of a private facility owner, and this power supply might be more reliable or add to the reliability of power feeding a facility.  This also removes uncertainties generated from competing interests for electricity.  If capacity were ever reached on a power grid, tough choices would have to be made on how power was distributed to customers; California can attest to that.

Another reason might be the level of cost predictability that comes along with these systems.  The cost of oil or energy can swing wildly in the face of civil unrest, military action or energy cartels.   Renewable energy generation carries a known cost upfront, with a predictable useful life and maintenance cost that can more easily be predicted than the whims of a commodities market.

We might also be looking at renewable energy sources that are for the first time approaching cost competitiveness with traditional power.  If the costs of power continue to rise, then these systems will start to yield cost savings.

In short, the power supplied by these systems might cost more, but cost isn’t really the only factor.  Having the power that you want, that you control, when and where you need it, can be a compelling factor for considering these.  It can take a lot of the volatility and unpredictability out of the cost and supply of energy.


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November 2011
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