Data center growth is on the rise due to an increase in remote work, digital transformation, telehealth, fintech, gaming, and other sectors since the pandemic. According to Gartner, spending on global data center infrastructure is projected to reach $200 billion in 2021. Some of this growth is happening underground, where sustainability, security, and energy efficiency — all major considerations for data centers — are naturally found.
Sustainability is becoming a requirement for data centers, and, believe it or not, Iowa, of all places — known for fields of corn and soy — is actually a field of opportunity when it comes to renewable power sources. Combine this with underground data centers, which offer increased opportunities for security and natural cooling, and it’s the ideal recipe for future growth.
By operating in facilities beneath the Earth’s surface, underground data center locations deliver unmatched resiliency. Similar to how the body’s most critical organs are surrounded by the rib cage for protection, underground data centers place all critical infrastructure, including transformers, gen sets, and chillers, underground. The surrounding rock within a mine creates a natural shield from all weather extremes and events, including tornadoes. Any equipment placed outside of that shield is considered a weak link and diminishes the resiliency of the facility and maybe even the performance.
Underground data centers function like a biosphere, meaning it’s much easier to maintain an operationally stable temperature environment. This allows for all critical infrastructure to operate within the highest temperature parameters, resulting in the highest efficiency levels. This is because the mechanical systems will not need to accommodate for extreme temperature differences that occur throughout the year.
From a customer perspective, the naturally cooled mine environment is very beneficial for the operating requirements of server racks and other hardware. Geothermal cooling maintains a year-round temperature that keeps humidity and temperature at a set point, with an environmentally friendly closed-loop system that adds zero waste and does not stress local water infrastructure. In fact, it can save millions of gallons of water per year. As a result, cooling energy consumption is minimized, providing customers with savings on power usage year-round.
Aside from these underground specific advantages, the ability to go subterranean is not ubiquitous. Only certain North American geological characteristics can support underground mining and the opportunity for data center development. However, finding locations rich with renewable resources can take data center sustainability to a new level. These areas are located all over the country, especially in the Midwest, with one of the most surprising areas being Iowa.
The business and environmental advantages of renewable energy is that it is a rich and reliable source of sustainable power that can significantly reduce PUE while reducing carbon emissions, water usage, and, ultimately, overall costs.
At the beginning of 2021, Iowa had nearly 11,500 MW of generating capacity fueled by renewable sources at utility-scale. According to the U.S. Energy Information Association, Iowa offers the following in terms of renewable energy sources.
- Wind — The state was the second-largest wind power producer, after Texas. Wind energy powered 57% of Iowa's net generation.
- Ethanol — As the leading ethanol-producing state in the nation, Iowa produces nearly 4.5 billion gallons per year — or a quarter of ethanol fuel in the U.S.
Biomass, solar, and hydroelectricity — As of 2019, about 2% of Iowa's electricity came from biomass and solar energy, with the remaining coming from hydroelectric power.
According to the Iowa Environmental Council, because wind is leading renewable energy source, the state is advancing some of its policies to do the following.
- Maintain and expand the incentives available to own or invest in wind turbines, including tax incentives.
- Ensure sufficient high-voltage transmission infrastructure exists to allow for significant additions of wind power and continued wind development in Iowa to use this infrastructure.
- Work collaboratively with partners and developers to ensure the routes of new transmission lines can support needed infrastructure with minimal disruption to Iowa’s land and waters.
The Demand for Sustainability
Sustainability is now a business requirement — there is pressure on companies to embrace sustainable energy practices and to make a commitment to minimize their carbon footprints. In Iowa, where a variety of renewable energy sources are available, data center providers can contract with green power suppliers to meet their customers’ energy needs.
The need for environmental awareness is growing. Offering customers a choice of renewable energy can be the difference between a deal or a dud. Consider utilizing renewable energy coupled with underground facilities to make it possible for customers to meet their sustainability goals — not just today, but tomorrow too.