Monday Aug 18, 2008

Intercontinental demand load balancing (outsource your carbon footprint!)

PearseStationDuringAug2008SolarEclipse
While visiting family in Wisconsin last summer, I learned that a Sun Ray client attached to servers more than 3500 miles away performed at least as well as a client at my home 8 miles away and nearly as well as clients right in the Dublin office. So, I was able to use Irish wind energy while working in a coal powered corner of Wisconsin. I wondered if this technique could be formalized into demand side transcontinental IT energy load balancing GRID? I wrote up the idea and with Sun's help, it was published in the September issue of Research Disclosure. At a time when oil prices are soaring and some are predicting that up to 50% of electricity load might eventually be devoted to IT, I can think of quite a few possibilities for this kind of grid system:

  • Efficient alternative to carbon tax and trade:Wisconsin and many other parts of the world is not suitable for solar, wind, tide, hydroelectric or geothermal energy. When carbon taxes are enacted, places such as these could be at a severe economic disadvantage compared to Nevada, California and other places where carbon neutral energy sources are abundant. Industries in these places have few alternatives. They could wait for superconducting electricity grids and buy energy from elsewhere, they could pay the carbon tax and buy credits from other states, they could send jobs and industry to where energy is cheap and clean, or they could use demand load balancing to keep jobs and outsource the energy demand.
  • Failsafe UPS:When I worked in South Florida, we could almost set our watches by the daily summer thunderstorms. Sometimes it would knock our power out five times a day. Even if the power glitch lasted only one second, it took the DEC servers a half hour to reboot and certainly disrupted our work day. Ideally, our servers would have been hosted somewhere where electricity was more reliable. A small solar panel (~3500 Watts) on the roof would have been sufficient to power 150 Sun Ray clients and their monitors. The lack of servers in our office would have also made it easier for our HVAC system to cope with the Florida heat.
  • Shifting peak demand: Our least efficient, most expensive and most polluting power plants usually come on line during periods of peak demand. I've heard that some utilities paid as much as $0.45/kWh for peak electricity transferred over the conventional "supply side" electricity grid. Ever since air conditioning became popular, Wisconsin electricity demand peaks during late afternoon on the hottest days of summer. By contrast, Florida power demand peaks during the coldest winter nights because thats the only time of year when simple but inefficient electric heating systems are necessary. While there may be some occasions when both Florida and Wisconsin are at peak demand, IT demand load grid balancing could transfer load between northern and southern hemispheres if necessary. Use Australian solar energy to power your data center during a cloudy Irish winter night. Use Irish wind to power your Australian data center during a windless day.
  • Optimizing peak load across timezones:One of the reasons Dublin's Sun Ray servers seemed faster to me when I was working from Wisconsin is that by noon Wisconsin time, many of the local users in the Irish timezone would have gone home. If the global grid load balancing system were smart enough, it could predict when and where server resources would become available. As timezones approach the end of their workday, they would advertise that resources are becoming available for timezones to the west. This could help flatten the daily energy demand peaks and allow us to use more efficient power sources.
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If anyone has suggestions or alternative ways of using energy, I'm open to comments. Or you might want to consider writing up the idea and submitting it for possible publication at Research Disclosure. This is a useful publication service which allows the free exchange of ideas, while discouraging patent trolls.

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