Data Center Powered By The Wind

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The  131-foot tall wind turbine at Other World Computing in Woodstock, Illinois.

The 131-foot tall wind turbine at Other World Computing in Woodstock, Illinois.

A small lSP and hosting company in Illinois may be the first data center operator in the U.S. to power its facility entirely with wind power from an on-site turbine. On Oct. 19, Other World Computing (OWC) began using a 131-foot tall wind turbine to provide all the electric power for its building in Woodstock, Illinois, which includes the company’s headquarters and a data center supporting its web hosting and ISP services.

There are other data center operators that use utility power that is sourced from wind generation. But this is the first example we’ve seen of a working data center with on-site wind generation that can produce enough power to support its entire facility. That’s partly due to the fact that OWC has a small data center, which can be supported by a single wind turbine, limiting the initial investment required to commit fully to wind power. The company has also invested in other energy efficiency measures for its facility, reducing its overall electricity needs.

OWC is one of several examples of data centers seeking to go “all in” on wind energy for their data center. Here’s a look at other data center projects focused on wind energy:

  • Green House Data in Cheyenne, Wyoming operates a 10,000 square foot data center that is powered entirely through renewable wind energy from its local utility. The company useselectricity provided by Cheyenne, Light, Fuel and Power, which has partnered with Tierra Energy on a 30-megawatt wind generation site in Cheyenne. Green House Data plans to build several wind turbines on site in the next several years, and says it facility is the largest wind-powered public data center in the nation.
  • The Microsoft Virtual Earth service operates out of a data center container housed at a Microsoft facility in Boulder, Colo. The container is “100 percent wind powered” through offsets purchased from Boulder-based Renewable Choice Energy. While not powered directly by “wind turbines” Microsoft has tapped into a major advantage of containers: they can easily be placed near renewable energy sources, allowing companies to chase green power to meet carbon reduction goals.
  • Texas startup Baryonyx plans to build a data center powered by energy from huge “wind farms” in the Texas panhandle and the Gulf of Mexico. In the first phase of the project, Baryonyx plans to build a 28,000 square foot data center in Stratford, Texas which will be powered by 100 wind turbines built on the adjacent land that will generate up to 150 megawatts of power.

OWC, which also operates an online catalog of iPod, and iPhone products, uses utility power when the wind dies down, and also has generators on site. The company’s Vestas V39-500 wind turbine, which arrived in September, can provide 500 kilowatts of power. That’s plenty to support the 37,000 square foot facility, which already employs a geothermal cooling system. OWC estimates that the turbine will generate 1.25 million kilowatt hours of power per year, more than twice the amount OWC needs for its operations.

The tower is 131 feet high with the blades extending the turbine’s total height to 194 feet. The blade housing can rotate 360 degrees so it can turn facing into winds up to 150 mph. During extreme winds, the blades automatically go “flat” with the narrowest point into the wind and in essence, shut the turbine down until it senses safe operational wind speeds.

The turbine cost about $1.25 million, and will take between 10 and 14 years to recover the cost, according to OWC.

“I made the decision to 100 percent self fund this project because of the conservational benefits as well as the future cost of energy,” said Larry O’Connor, CEO, Other World Computing, in the press release. “With the kilowatt hour rate in the Chicago market up 24.3percent since 1999, it only makes sense to use technology to lower our usage and costs related to traditional power sources.”

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.

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11 Comments

  1. Actually Midwest Data Center is Rock Port, MO is powered by 100% Wind Energy. They are part of a wind farm that powers the town of Rock Port, Mo. They are an ISP, Data backup, VPN, colo, webhosting provider and more.

  2. Anonymous

    I understand that Midwest Data in Rock Port, MO is in fact the first 100% wind power data center, however; I think what they're saying is that this Data Center is using wind towers that they own. The title is a bit misleading, but once you read into it, you'll know what they're talking about. I am surprised however that Midwest Data center was not mentioned.

  3. Midwest Data Center doesn't have much information on its site. But from what I can tell, Midwest Data Center doesn't have its own on-site wind turbine, but gets 100 percent wind energy from a town-operated utility that operates a wind farm. The distinction we're drawing here isn't that OWC is "100 percent wind-powered" - a claim made by a number of companies who've lined up utility-sourced renewable power or bought credits - but that this company has actually built its own wind turbine.

  4. Austin

    This is pure BS. What happens when the wind speed drops below 10 mph? Right now the wind in Woodstock, IL is 3 mph. http://www.wunderground.com/US/IL/Woodstock.html Looking at weather history for the last 24 hours, they have had many hours with no wind at all. http://www.wunderground.com/weatherstation/WXDailyHistory.asp?ID=KILWOODS3 And for the last month, their wind speed has averaged 2.1 mph. http://www.wunderground.com/weatherstation/WXDailyHistory.asp?ID=KILWOODS3&day=21&year=2009&month=12&graphspan=month They are a class 1 location. http://www.awea.org/faq/basicwr.html What do they do when there is no wind? Which is most of the time? Shut down? They get it off the grid like anyone else. The lack of hard numbers in this article is similar to many on this site about "green" power for data centers. FAKE.

  5. RE: Comments posted by Austin, on December 21st, 2009 We can appreciate your comments as unfortunately, there is some “greenwashing” going on in when it comes to a variety of green or eco-friendly practices. Despite the wind speed referred to below on that given day, we did extensive wind speed studies at our specific site over the course of a year. The results of which determined that the average wind speed ranged from 10-15 mph, and that the site was indeed conducive to installing a turbine to generate double our total operations annual energy consumption. That wundground.com site is quite interesting ... but as of today's date 1/11/10, it shows the average speed thus far in Woodstock to be about 5 mph. And yet our turbine is quite actively spinning! What one must take into consideration are several factors that can affect wind speeds in a general geographic area: - Topography, physical obstructions and the Coriolis Effect all play a significant role in wind speed. The weather monitoring station being cited is in a very dense population...in essence, the downtown area. It is in a low lying area compared to our site and has many building and tree obstructions ... all of which can reduce wind speed significantly at a measuring source. Alternatively, the blades of our turbine reach 194 feet in height, our site is in a higher elevation that the downtown area, and we are located in a very open agricultural area. As a result, our site winds speeds do exceed what is reported by that local monitoring station. And based on the wind speed averages we measured before installing the turbine, our site's wind speeds would make us a Class 2 or 3 Wind Power Density site as described here: http://www.awea.org/faq/basicwr.html Then, there's the anomalies of weather itself ... the power generated by Iowa wind farms in November was far lower than average as the wind speeds were near record low for the month. So trying to base concrete conclusions on long-term averages does require a bit of flexibility when analyzing the data. We have been very open about what happens -- and it does -- whenever there isn’t sufficient wind for the turbine to power our operations. The local utility company will remain as the backup power source. Local power companies are an essential part of any business switching to wind power, for several reasons. Wind turbines are taken off-line for regular maintenance, and they also need to go offline in the event that wind speeds exceed the built in safety limits. (In this event, the blades will present their narrowest profile while always pointing into the prevailing wind.) So even in the windiest areas on the planet, if a storm front moved in, unless the turbine is rated to handle that excess load, the turbine will shut down ... in short the opposite of our situation being low wind So then yes, no wind powered facility can likely exist 100% at all times just on onsite wind. But with OWC’s excess generation, sold to the local utility, OWC can accurately state that it is 100% wind powered, as our net use of energy from the local utility is still less than what OWC supplies them. For a business to run 24/7, it needs an uninterrupted power source. In the event of a combined wind and utility company power blackout, we have two additional on-site backup power systems so we can continue serving our customers without interruption. To conclude, we self-funded this $1.25 million dollar project because the turbine can generate double the power our operations need in winds as low as 9 mph at our site. Our company was built upon maximizing resources in its products, services, and operations. Our wind turbine continues that tradition in terms of conservational benefits as well as the future cost of energy. Grant Dahlke Other World Computing Brand Manager

  6. Farmgirl

    As a resident of southwest Woodstock, I absolutely agree with Grant that small wind can definitely succeed in this area. I find the prevailing wind resource maps for this area simply do not capture the actual average wind speed. I wish OWC the best and I think it's great that they had the guts to go for it.