Blackouts Could Test Japan’s Diesel Supply

Will Japan have enough diesel fuel to support all of its data centers if power rationing is implemented more widely this summer? As authorities urge businesses and residents to conserve energy, Japan’s country’s data center industry is assessing worst-case scenarios in which the math could become problematic.

While no data centers in Tokyo were damaged by the magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11, their resiliency may be tested by a series of rolling blackouts being implemented by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to cope with the loss of generating capacity at damaged nuclear plants in northern Japan. Shortly after the quake, TEPCO announced plans to implement rolling blackouts to many cities in suburban Tokyo for three to six hours daily. On Friday TEPCO said it hoped to discontinue the rolling blackouts this month, at least for the time being.

Government Urges Conservation

But on Sunday the Japanese government ordered businesses and residents of Tokyo cut their energy use by up to 25 percent this summer to avoid power outages as air conditioner use tests the region’s utility capacity. While some suspect the warning is meant to motivate large power users to cut back on their own, it also prompting them to re-examine contingency plans.

Access to diesel fuel to power the generators will be a key issues should the rolling blackouts persist. Equinix and other data center operators have contracts for priority access to diesel fuel.

“But depending on future status, they could have to prioritize among the priority contractors, or in an extreme case, the government may have to prioritize the national energy to the devastated area,” said Kei Furuta, managing director, Equinix Japan, in mid-March. “We do not expect an issue for fuel in the short term, but the mid to long term future is always unknown.”

Industry Council has Concerns

Zen Kishimoto from AltaTerra Research Network provides a translation of a document from the Japan Data Center Council (JDDC) in which the group said that rolling blackouts affecting large groups of data centers could provide exactly the kind of systemic test (link via DataCenterDynamics).

“When all 50 data centers that require 10,000 VA each in the Tokyo metropolitan area fire up a generator, 2,000 to 2,500 liters (roughly 5,000 to 6,250 gallons) of fuel are consumed hourly,” the JDDC wrote. “Each rolling blackout is estimated to last three hours. As for the fuel reserve, some data centers store fuel for 48 hours and others store fuel for 24 hours. After eight power interruptions, securing enough fuel would become extremely difficult.

“To transport this much fuel, a few large trucks are needed. If the demand happens at the same time for all the data centers, it would be a logistical nightmare,” the JDDC concluded.

The document – and the government advisory – each represent thinking for worst-case scenarios. But in a country that has been hit the triple-whammy of a huge earthquake, devastating tsunami and nuclear plant crisis, planning for the worst has taken on a new sense of urgency.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large 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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  1. Lots of numbers don't match in this report, which makes me question everything else. Let's work through the numbers. 2000 to 2500 liters per hour is 528 to 660 gallons per hour, much less than the 5000 to 6250 gallons per hour in the report. A "10000 VA" data center is a small server room, not a data center. 10000 KVA is far more likely. 50 data centers consuming 10000 KVA require at least 500,000 KVA generator capacity (actually much more, but this is the bare minimum). A large Cat Diesel generator produces 3750 KVA, and consumes 806 liters per hour. 133 of those generators would supply 500,000 VA, consuming 107464 liters per hour or 28,389 gallons per hour. A very large American diesel tanker truck holds 9000 gallons. 3-4 tanker trucks would need to deliver diesel to data centers every hour in the 844 square mile Tokyo metropolitan area. If Japanese trucks are half that size due to narrow roads, etc., that's no more than 8 trucks per hour on the roads. Add 50% for generator inefficiencies, etc., and we're still talking 12 trucks per hour. Doesn't seem like such a great burden to me.