Thursday, 20 March 2014

Novel Plan Looks at Used Car Batteries for Data Centre Power

One of the latest and most intriguing bits of data centre news comes by way of a novel plan that proposes providing backup power for data centres through used electric car batteries.  The plan is part of a €2.9 million project intended to encourage data centres to trim their power consumption, embrace more renewables and depend less on the grid.

The GreenDataNet consortium, recently launched in Switzerland, proposed the idea thanks to data provided by consortium member and electric car manufacturer Nissan.  According to the carmaker, the batteries used in its Leaf model still have plenty of usable life left in them, even when they are no longer useful for powering vehicles.

A new electric car battery can store 24 kW of energy for a useful life of 10 to 14 years.  At the end of that life, it can still store up to 18 kW of energy – even though that amount represents too much of a degradation for an electric car.  By stacking those batteries together, they could be used to provide supplemental power to data centres that could reduce their dependence on the grid and balance loads during peak times.

Nissan has already proven the concept through its innovative ‘Leaf 2 Home’ programme for Leaf owners in Japan.  Participating owners are set up with used batteries in their homes as a way of levelling out the power demands of both house and car. The consortium believes the same principle would work just fine for European data centres, which tend to be smaller than their American counterparts.

Another one of the advantages of using car batteries for data centre power is the fact that no significant infrastructure changes need to be made.  That is a big plus when you consider the vast majority of European data centres are located in urban areas with little room to accommodate big changes.

A Question of Demand

In order to make all of this work, Europe would have to see a significant increase in the demand for electric cars.  Why?  Because it would require a stack of hundreds of batteries to achieve any noticeable benefit for the average data centre.  Moreover, no battery will last forever.  Right now, there are just not enough electric cars on the road to make the plan worthwhile.

The consortium has been given the task of achieving a significant reduction in grid-based power consumption among data centres over the next several decades.  If the car battery idea is to go anywhere, one of the first strategies should be to use some of their funding to promote electric car purchases among Europeans.  Without enough cars on the road, there will not be enough batteries to make it feasible.


At first glance, this is a great idea that deserves more exploration and promotion.  Nevertheless, it is also one that should be approached with cautious optimism.  It will only work under the right conditions; conditions no one can promise will exist in the coming years. 

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