The Solar-Powered Blackbox

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The Sun Modular Data Center blog provides some details today about Sun’s demonstration of a solar powered Sun MD unit at the recent CeBIT trade show in Germany. Sun engineer Ingo Frobenius hooked the portable “Blackbox” shipping container to a solar array of photovoltaic panels that was about 65 square meters (about 700 square feet) in area. This configuration produced about 10 kilowatts of power for the equipment.

“It’s true that 10kW is not going to power a complete Sun MD unit,” wrote Paul Monday on the Sun MD blog. “The average rack has a 12.5kW power supply (though if you fill the rack with 4 Sun Blade 6000s, you will need 25kW power supplies with your rack). But keep in mind, many of our warehouses have far more than 65 square meters of space to put solar panels.”


In the CeBIT configuration, the Blackbox was hooked to the grid so it could still operate on cloudy days – which was a good thing, since it snowed during the course of the trade show.

As we’ve noted a number of times previously, solar arrays are problematic for use in powering data centers, because it takes approximately 10 square feet of an array to power 1 square foot of data center space. It just doesn’t scale well. But the Sun demo – along with Microsoft’s use of wind powered containers in Boulder, Colorado – illustrate the potential to selectively use renewable energy sources to support small-scale deployments of modular data centers, such as the growing number of shipping container solutions.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.