What’s the Mix Up?

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Brian Oley
Mission Critical Solutions 

In previous posts, my colleagues have outlined strategies for improving the energy use and environmental impact of data centers.  Operating strategies are undeniably important, but IT decision-makers should not overlook another vital aspect of an energy-efficient facility strategy: site selection.  Obviously, power cost and reliability are major factors in data center site selection. As companies focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their facilities, energy efficiency and the sources of energy are increasingly important as well.  All of these factors come together in the Generation Mix.

Outside the energy business, the term “generation mix” may refer to different work styles of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials.  In our world, the term refers to the percentages of a utility’s energy derived from sources such as fossil fuels, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind and other renewable technologies. A location’s potential for energy cost, stability and GHG emissions is primarily based on how the energy is produced. 

Most data center prospects ask (1) what I recommend as far as a generation mix breakdown and (2) why.  But there’s no clear cut, absolute answer to fit every requirement. We report, input and analyze the data of the generation mix, but no one has a crystal ball to say where it’s going to be favorable. The most preferential consortium of sources (both renewable and nonrenewable), and the green (financial green and environmental greening) impact depend on what a company is willing to endure to achieve this goal.

Will a data center prospect with existing operations in the East consider spending more on data center migration to head to the Northwest, where the perception is that utilities’ generation mix is comprised primarily of hydro?  Will a company give up economic incentives to pursue a strategy that implements wind, solar, or biomass?  What assurance does the company need—and what guarantees can a utility provide–that the gen mix of today will remain in place throughout the life of the data center?  The answers to these questions are rarely black and white.

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