Data Center Sustainability Trends: First Solar Cooling System Installed in Africa

6 Aug 2014 by Technology

"In recent years more than ever, data center companies have had a sharpened focus on making improvements to create greener computing facilities and reduce their impact on the surrounding environment. In these regards, organizations have utilized a whole host of different sustainability approaches, often with the same goal in mind: to lessen the amount of electricity that data centers consume.

Over the summer, mobile telecommunications company MTN bolstered their green efforts by installing the first solar cooling system in Africa at their head office in Johannesburg, according to

MTN's Data Center Solar Cooling System
The solar arrangement includes 242 solar mirrors that move according to the sun's position. The mirrors, which cover a 484-square-meter site, track the sun's movement using GPS technology, while also factoring in the orientation, date and time, noted IT News Africa.

The mirrors gather the sun's energy, which is then leveraged to heat water within the cooling system to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Once pressurized, the water is used to power a connected absorption chiller that in turn utilizes a lithium bromide solution to chill water to circulate throughout the cooling system. The lithium bromide water mixture is a green solution with a zero global warming potential and no ozone depletion potential rating. It is this chilled water that actually cools the IT equipment housed within the data center.

When the weather isn't sunny, the mirrors in the solar arrangement respond accordingly, shifting to a self-cleaning process on rainy days, and turning down to a protective ""slow"" position when it's cloudy.

The solar cooling system - designed by REACH Renewable and AOS Consulting Engineers and installed by Industrial Solar, Voltas Technologies and Luft Technik - has the potential to impact the overall market in addition to MTN's data center and environmental footprint.

""The opportunity to model and design the installation using a high temperature heat source, architectonically integrated, creates a real opportunity for local manufacturing and future job creation in the field of renewable energy equipment production in [Africa],"" noted Cristian Cernat, Voltas Technologies managing director.

Reducing Reliance on an Unstable Power Grid
Historically, data center cooling systems have been among the highest energy consuming components in facilities. However, as MTN's cooling system will be solar-powered, they will end up drawing much less electricity from the local utility providers. Zunaid Bulbulia, MTN South Africa CEO, said the new system ""will substantially reduce consumption and release additional capacity for the national grid.""

PC Advisor noted that several African countries have been experiencing power shortages recently. This, compounded by the fact that local utility vendors have raised their prices to support new energy products, has added to the rising cost level of running a data center, particularly in this region. MTN's new solar cooling system came as a result of these conditions and the company noted that it will not only lessen the facility's environmental impact, but will also reduce its reliance on the national power grid.

""Solar energy is the only solutions for operators especially when it comes to the running of data centers and powering base stations because high electricity tariff coupled with power supply unreliability may make operators to operate at a loss,"" noted Andrew Makanya, Internet Solutions Zambia managing director."

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