Summer in the northern hemisphere just started, but already devastating heatwaves have washed over much of the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Europe and Asia. Widespread wildfires in Canada have triggered air quality alerts across that country and much of the eastern half of the U.S. Similar extreme heat events across Asia have caused widespread power outages, and Europe continues to break heat records as the fastest-warming continent. The data center cooling experts at Vertiv (NYSE: VRT), a global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions, issued updated guidance for managing the extreme heat.
Climate change has made the past eight years the hottest on record, but with an El Niño weather pattern compounding the issue this year, many forecasts anticipate record-breaking temperatures in 2023. The sizzling outdoor temperatures and their aftermath create significant challenges for data center operators who already wage a daily battle with the heat produced within their facilities. There are steps organizations can take to mitigate the risks associated with extreme heat. These include:
- Clean or change air filters: The eerie orange haze that engulfed New York City was a powerful visual representation of one of the most immediate and severe impacts of climate change. For data center operators, it should serve as a reminder to clean or change air filters in their data center thermal management systems and HVAC systems. Those filters help to protect sensitive electronics from particulates in the air, including smoke from faraway wildfires.
- Accelerate planned maintenance and service: Extreme heat and poor air quality tax more than data center infrastructure systems. Electricity providers often struggle to meet the surge in demand that comes with higher temperatures, and outages are common. Such events are not the time to learn about problems with an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system or cooling unit. Cleaning condenser coils and maintaining refrigerant charge levels are examples of proactive maintenance that can help to prevent unexpected failures.
- Activate available efficiency tools: Many modern UPS systems are equipped with high-efficiency eco-modes that can reduce the amount of power the system draws from the grid. Heatwaves like those we’ve seen recently push the grid to its limits, meaning any reductions in demand can be the difference between uninterrupted service and a devastating outage.
- Leverage alternative energy sources: Not all data centers have access to viable alternative energy, but those that do should leverage off-grid power sources. These could include on- or off-site solar arrays or other alternate sources, such as off-site wind farms and lithium-ion batteries, to enable peak shifting or shaving. Use of generators is discouraged during heat waves unless an outage occurs. Diesel generators produce more greenhouse gas and emissions associated with climate change than backup options that use alternative energy. In fact, organizations should postpone planned generator testing when temperatures are spiking.
“These heatwaves are becoming more common and more extreme, placing intense pressure on utility providers and data center operators globally,” said John Niemann, senior vice president for the global thermal management business for Vertiv. “Organizations must match that intensity with their response, proactively preparing for the associated strain not just on their own power and cooling systems, but the grid as well. Prioritizing preventive maintenance service and collaborating with electricity providers to manage demand can help reduce the likelihood of any sort of heat-related equipment failure.”
The recommendations issued supplement previous guidance from Vertiv, which included:
- Run as many cooling units as possible to reduce the load on each individual unit, and save energy through teamwork controls
- Consider different types of cooling systems, including liquid cooling, water-free cooling, and evaporative free cooling systems, all of which are designed for high-temperature environments.
- Use predictive modeling for thermal impacts rather than historic data. As extreme heat events increase in frequency, historic metrics often fall short of capturing modern risks.