Internet e-commerce company eBay has covered the roof of its data center (called Topaz) in Utah with solar panels. The project is eBay’s largest solar installation to date at 665 kilowatts, which is slightly bigger than the solar installation at its headquarters in San Jose, and over 6 times the size of its solar panel project at its small data center in Denver.
But yes, as Amazon’s web infrastructure guru James Hamilton pointed out recently, these types of solar panel installations at data centers are usually small enough that they only power a portion of the data center’s needs. According to this Data Center Knowledge post from 2010, the Topaz data center has a 30 MW substation nearby, and the first of the four phases of the data center consumed 7.2 MW. A 665 kW solar system could provide for about 2 percent of a 30 MW data center, before you even factor in the variable nature of the sun.
Apple’s planned 20 MW solar farm, for its estimated 100 MW data center, is by far the largest of its kind being built in the U.S. Google has also invested about a billion dollars into clean power projects as both a financial investment, and as a way to explore clean power development near its data centers. Facebook has a lot smaller solar panel project, at 100 kW, at its 25 MW data center in Oregon.
Hamilton isn’t convinced that solar and data centers are a good mix. And it’s true that energy efficient data centers are low hanging fruit for data center operators compared to costly clean power. eBay has been pretty aggressive on making its data centers more energy efficient, particularly for its new Project Mercury data center in downtown Phoenix (check out Derrick’s Harris’ awesome post after visiting Project Mercury.)
eBay worked with SPG Solar for the design and installation of the Topaz solar roof project.