At DCD>Connect 2023, our own Dan Loosemore welcomed Patty Solberg, senior advisor for the Solutions Innovation division of Engie to the stage for a DCD>Talk. Engie is a French multinational utilities business, currently focusing on the challenges of the transition to non-fossil fuels, and we took the opportunity to discuss how the explosion in energy demand from data centers is being addressed.

Solberg starts by evangelizing about the possibilities of microgrids, and the opportunities it offers for hybrid energy sources:

“What do you do when the wind goes down? Well, we can match that with other renewable energy. Part of the exciting thing for me as we talk about microgrids supporting data centers, and renewable microgrids supporting data centers, is that you can then start to blend this networked power and the wholesale energy with onsite energy assets and how you're deploying those. If the wind farm goes down, you can discharge your local battery and provide that hourly matching service.”

Where previously, sustainability in the data center was a ‘bolt-on’, Solberg points out that as the 2030 deadline for many environmental standards approaches, there has been a change in the mindset for construction:

“Generally, you've got data centers building the way they always have, and you've wrapped sustainability around it. Because it's hard to turn the ship, people want the resilience, they want all of those redundant assets. But what we're starting to see is how we can modify the design of the data center, so that we can get more grid-interactive, so we can provide more community benefit.”

The concept of reusing heat from infrastructure is becoming common parlance, and has a myriad of use cases:

“We talk about data centers as a bit of a reverse power plant. Power plants take heat, and turn it into electricity. Data centers can take electricity and turn it into any heat with a side of compute. You're this huge heat generation resource.

"Engie is a district energy network operator, we offer district cooling and district heating networks, and we've had cases where we are integrating data center waste heat into some of our district energy networks. The Olympic swimming pool in Paris is going to be partially heated with data center waste heat reuse through one of our district heating networks.”

And for Solberg, this is the tip of the iceberg: “For me, it's super exciting, because there's a huge opportunity to take a sustainability leap, a step change in sustainability and data centers, in rethinking how we've traditionally done things so that we can better integrate with the community, so we can provide those services locally, maybe get around some of the challenges that we have, but also enable sustainability. Data centers and cloud companies have provided a huge investment in renewable energy and there's an opportunity to drive that renewability closer and closer to the data center.”

To learn more about the possibilities that the transition to renewable energy can bring to the data center, listen to the full DCD>Talk here.