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April 14, 2015

CenturyLink fuels data centre with natural gas

CenturyLink buys Bloom Energy plant and uses fuel cells to power Southern California data centre.

By Joao Lima

CenturyLink has bought a 500kW on-site power generation plant from Bloom Energy to power an expansion of its data centre in Irvine, California.

Both the expansion of the facility and the deployment of the energy station to power the data centre have now been completed and are due to be commissioned this month.

The facility will be the first multi-tenant data centres in Southern California to use natural gas as a source of energy, with the fuel-cell system providing part of the expansion’s 2MW load.

Bloom’s share of the data centre market was restricted to single-tenant facilities, including an Apple infrastructure in North Carolina and an eBay centre in Utah.

CenturyLink’s move towards green energy was set to attract a new layer of customers that care about powering their infrastructure with clean energy.

Even though green energy has not been set as a priority for the mainstream collocation customers, predictions envisioned the trend to curve and levels of interest to grow within the next few years.

The company’s move to buy the Bloom fuel-cell system was also taken to secure future costs savings.

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Gas is cheaper than electricity in Irvine, and gas pipelines have also been found to be more reliable than electrical grids.

The Californian state also offers state incentives and there are federal tax incentives for using fuel cells.

For now, the adoption of fuel energy by CenturyLink will solely be tested at the Irvine data centre. Although, if positive results come out of the pilot project, the company might well embrace this solution across its 50 collocation data centres around the world.

Fuel cells have proved to be efficient when powering data centres, as eBay highlighted with its infrastructure in Utah.

With the energy being the primary source of power to the data centre, the utility grid serves as a backup, making uninterruptible power supplies, transfer switches, and generators unnecessary.

Bloom Energy provides now power through fuel cells to nearly ten data centres.

Drew Leonard, vice president of global collocation for CenturyLink, said: "That is only going to increase over time. It’s going to make or break a lot of companies’ decisions about where they’re going to … collocate equipment."

Peter Gross, vice president of mission critical systems at Bloom, said: "That’s the beauty of this architecture. This is what you call a mission-critical solution, where this replaces the UPS, and this replaces the generator."

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