An unconventional approach to energy storage

As more and more of our world becomes digital, the tangible impacts and externalities of our daily lives become increasingly abstract. But at the end of the day, as easy as it is to forget, the internet is not made up of ones and zeros flying through the atmosphere, but of wires running across the ocean floor. The cloud is not, as its name suggests, an ethereal, untouchable floating non-entity, but increasingly huge clusters of servers in data centers around the world. And all that analog infrastructure has a tangible – and in some cases severe – environmental impact.

Data centers are among the worst culprits, consuming 10 to 50 times more energy per unit floor area than a standard commercial office building. According to the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, data centers collectively account for approximately 2% of energy consumption for the entire United States. “As the use of information technology in our country increases, the energy consumption of data centers and servers is also expected to increase,” the government agency said. reports.

The data has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as the sector’s energy footprint grows at the risk of undermining efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the context of increasingly desperate calls to mitigate climate change. But some scientists hope that the data sector will not be the last straw, but rather the saving grace of the climate.

One of the emerging ideas in the growing and rapidly evolving energy storage industry is the concept of “information stacks”. The idea is relatively simple: information batteries would “perform certain calculations in advance when energy is cheap, such as when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, and cache the results for later.” according to a researcher. explanation by Ars Technica. The beauty of this concept is that it would require no additional infrastructure or specialized hardware, and would allow data centers to replace up to 30% of their current energy consumption with surplus renewable energy that would otherwise have been wasted. .

“Information farms are designed to work with existing data centers,” researchers Jennifer Switzer and Barath Raghavan wrote in a recent scientific article describing the concept. “Very limited processing power is reserved for the IB [information battery] manager, which manages the scheduling of real-time compute and bake tasks. A cluster of machines or VMs is designated for baking. The IB cache, which stores the results of these precalculations, is kept locally for fast retrieval. No additional infrastructure is required.

Batteries are just one in a litany of budding ideas for potential energy storage solutions. Renewable resources such as solar and wind power are variable, meaning their output rises and falls with weather and time of day, unlike fossil fuels which can provide constant, controlled energy to the network on demand. This means that in a 100% renewable energy landscape, sometimes supply will far exceed demand, and at other times demand will skyrocket when the wind is not blowing and the sun has set. Energy storage is therefore vital to make a green energy transition viable and reliable.

The problem is that, until now, the energy storage sector has largely depended on lithium-ion batteries, which can only hold energy for a limited number of hours and require earth metals to manufacture. rare non-renewable. Now, The race is on to deliver the most reliable, efficient and cost-effective long-term energy storage solution, and the innovative solutions on offer run the gamut from high concept green hydrogen diagrams to ideas as simple as relying on pulleys and gravity. “Information stacks” are one of the most unconventional ideas in the field today, but they could have huge potential to appeal to Silicon Valley and tech-savvy angel investors.

By Haley Zaremba for

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