Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Externalities from an unreliable grid

Coincidentally, after this post where the suggestion that there might be externalities from an unreliable grid and that these externalities might be large was dismissed, the following article appeared in the NYT:

To guard against a power failure, they [data centers] further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state government’s Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the area’s top stationary diesel polluters.
Even running electricity at full throttle has not been enough to satisfy the industry. In addition to generators, most large data centers contain banks of huge, spinning flywheels or thousands of lead-acid batteries — many of them similar to automobile batteries — to power the computers in case of a grid failure as brief as a few hundredths of a second, an interruption that could crash the servers.
Of all the things the Internet was expected to become, it is safe to say that a seed for the proliferation of backup diesel generators was not one of them.

Terry Darton, a former manager at Virginia’s environmental agency, said permits had been issued to enough generators for data centers in his 14-county corner of Virginia to nearly match the output of a nuclear power plant.        

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