As last year's winner of the DCD>Award for Edge data center project of the year, it is unsurprising that EC1 Grafton should have its very own cutting-Edge angle.
What is a little surprising, is that according to Jonathan Eaves, founder, and CEO of Edge Centres and creator of the EC1 Grafton, their solar realization was something of an accident. In fact, you could say it was the solar opposite of what they expected.
One thing is undeniable, and that is that Edge projects, in general, are out-doing themselves.
Mark Thiele, CEO & founder of Edgevana, and judge of the Edge DCD>Award told DCD at a recent broadcast episode, that “data center entries and Edge entries [to the DCD Awards], in general, have done an amazing job at recognizing that we can't just take our existing strategies and stretch them out over to the Edge like a rubber band.”
“We need to rethink how we enable enterprises, Web3 companies, technology firms, cities, counties, and regional governments, to leverage the resources and the opportunity associated with the Edge without breaking the bank, and many of us have looked over the years at Edge as premium real estate.”
Despite this, the fact is that EC1 Grafton stood out.
Providing some context, Eaves explained to DCD in that same broadcast that Australia had centralized the internet. Centralization or decentralization of the internet is a controversial topic, but we won’t get into that here. The importance of centralization in this context is what it meant for Grafton’s role in the Australian internet.
“In Australia, they centralized the Internet into what the NBN calls POIs, which are Points of Interconnect. Effectively, every single premises in Australia connects back to one of 127 points. Grafton is the largest NBN POI in the country with 145,000 connected buildings. So it seemed logical to put our first facility there for our access, obviously, to a greater community and obviously to other customers and services.”
Anyone who has been to Australia knows how much sheer land mass the country has, with wide stretches left completely unbuilt. This makes for beautiful scenery and plenty of biodiversity, but it can create some obstacles to installing IT architecture.
“The issue when you have an empty block of land that's previously unpowered in Australia is that it takes six months to energize the area. So if your speed to market is set and your timelines are locked in, you instantly have a six-month caveat,” explained Eaves. “So, what started off as ‘could we run this on solar?’ which would get us going and kind of bootstrap until we got the utility, ended up becoming the actual solution to a problem we didn't set out to solve.”
Ultimately, EC1 Grafton was powered by placing solar panels and batteries at the site and using specialized inverters.
“What Grafton started off as a proof of concept is now rapidly increasing in scale for other locations, EC1 Grafton has now been 100 percent online for 403 days. It has used utility four times in that period, and it has never run the generator. Obviously, it's only running the utility as and when clouds reach a point where the battery storage is surpassed by the cloud cover.”
“The sun comes up early in the morning, and you get a sharp rise in power, where you're then going off batteries and onto PV (photovoltaic) load. Your sudden sharp rise is charging the batteries,” Eaves told DCD. “By almost 11 o'clock in the morning, your batteries are full.”
“As the building heats up, you'll see four spikes, which is when the compressor runs. So, because we use DC and AC currents we’re able to split the air conditioning load. The controllers and the motors themselves run on DC directly coupled to the solar and the compressor is the AC side, which only runs through an inverter as and when required.”
In order to make this energy-efficient approach work, however, a certain degree of foresight is required.
With renewable energy sources like solar, the availability is subject to change due to uncontrollable circumstances. With solar, it comes down to cloud coverage.
“We created a piece of software that looks during the day at the actual cloud cover.
“We have this at every facility. We monitor the cloud; so for example, you can see between the first of July and the second of July. On the first, we're more than 80 percent for that day so you would not create enough PV to charge the batteries for the next day. The second you can see is quite strong, but there's a small gap in the middle because that's still above the 60th percentile mark.
“What we do now, is at 5 pm, the software looks at the next 24-hour cloud production graph and says okay, tomorrow, we're only going to generate around 20 percent of our required PV to charge the batteries.
“So if we aren't at more than 75 percent charge at the end of the day, and if tomorrow appears to have more than 75 percent cloud cover, it automatically puts it onto utility, it changes the inverters on to utility just to charge the batteries back to 100 percent.”
In a location like the UK, this simply would not be a feasible model, but in sunny Queensland, Australia, the result has been only four days on utility.
EC1 Grafton has reaffirmed that data centers needn’t be a huge drain on global energy usage, and it is in (big) part because of this that they were the winner of the latest DCD award.