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Rival data centre bid

By 31 October 2008 39

Putting the lie to TRE’s accusation that investors would stay away from Canberra in droves, another investment group has revealed advanced plans for a data centre and associated stand-by power station.

On 666 this morning, two reps of the proposal explained that they have identified a site, have had discussions with Liberals and Greens (nothing sinister there – just ran out of time to meet ALP one said), and are very cognisant of resident concerns about siting, viewsheds, etc.

It was a refreshing perspective from them, as opposed to the vitriolic anti-Canberran, let us do what we want or we’re taking our bat and ball elsewhere approach of TRE.

And given that one criticism I have put forward of TRE’s proposal is that in this era we shouldn’t be building GHG-emitting power stations – even if they are less-worse than coal, this new proposal is looking at solar thermal for supplementing their grid power requirements plus providing for stand-by needs.

UPDATED: Amanda Bresnan is claiming this development vindicates Green policies.

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39 Responses to Rival data centre bid
#1
Whatsup2:02 pm, 31 Oct 08

At face value it sounds reasonable. And if they wanted to put their power generating solar thermal thingy-majigs near my backyard… they are most welcome.

TRE can stick their exhaust stacks ! And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

#2
AG Canberra2:05 pm, 31 Oct 08

Geez – I proposed this earlier this week – solar panels on all of our north facing roofs. Do I get a commission Mr Data centre operator?

#3
peterh2:23 pm, 31 Oct 08

the consortia has already started a polaris datacentre in QLD. so they know what they are doing. One of the consortia members, Wizard power, is owned by Tony Robey, who used to run Wizard – the IT & Recruiting company. more info on what he is doing re solar power, can be found here: http://www.wizardpower.com.au/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

it is interesting to note that the consortia are utilizing solar power technologies developed by the ANU. Nothing beats home grown!

#4
Gungahlin Al2:29 pm, 31 Oct 08

“TRE can stick their exhaust stacks !”

Robson did say the solar thermal power installation would also require cooling towers – but I’d point out the only thing coming out of them would be steam – bit different…

#5
Whatsup2:34 pm, 31 Oct 08

I don’t have an issue with steam being released into the atmosphere… as long as that is all it is.

#6
VYBerlinaV8_the_one_2:44 pm, 31 Oct 08

Steam and/or water vapour cause more impact in terms of the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ than carbon emissions, and present in larger quantities also. Typical of many ‘green’ supporters not to let facts stand in the way of self righteousness..

http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/mockler.html

#7
caf3:03 pm, 31 Oct 08

The very same paper points out that there is a very rapid turnover of water vapor in the atmosphere – the average water molecule remains in the atmosphere for only 9 days before precipitating back to the surface, making the forcing effects of extra water vapor negligble. The turnover of atmospheric carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is measured in years rather than days.

#8
Gungahlin Al3:06 pm, 31 Oct 08

Indeed Caf. Water vapour also contributes to cloud formation, and increased cloud would also increase albedo, thereby *reducing* greenhouse. But all in measures so small as to be incapable of being measured. CO2 on the other hand…

#9
peterh3:10 pm, 31 Oct 08

after reading a bit more on the deep dish technologies that are at the heart of the solar technology being proposed, I cannot see much in the way of steam being lost, as it is used to power turbines, then presumably through some sort of process or at least a method to re-liquefy the steam into water, it can be reapplied into the start of the system.

hardly a lot of waste steam.

much better than a fossil fuel turbine, maybe TRE could locate next to the molonglo treatment plant? must be a lot of methane there…

#10
aidan3:15 pm, 31 Oct 08

Water vapour is a feedback, carbon dioxide is a forcing. To (mis)quote Paul Krugman (latest economics (sort of) Nobel Laureate):

aidan said :

If you hear someone say something along the lines of “water vapour is a more important greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide”, never mind who he is, or how plausible he sounds.He might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign that reads I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT

#11
VYBerlinaV8_the_one_3:17 pm, 31 Oct 08

OK, now we have a discussion!

Fair point caf, but I’d suggest that the average time of a water molecule being mobile in the atmosphere is related to the concentration of such water molecules. I base this hypothesis (and that’s all it is) on the way in which the paper describes how the 9 day figure was calculated (rather than measured), being that it was calculated using average global precipitation.

Some brief research (including http://www.isse.ucar.edu/climatehealth/2004/presentations/Trenberth1.pdf) indicates that average global precipitation doesn’t seem to change much, and also that the warmer the atmosphere, the more water molecules it can hold. Accordingly, it seems reasonable to assume that:
a) because average precipitation globally doesn’t seem to be changing, the atmosphere simply retains additional water vapour that is added to it; and
b) the greater the concentration of water in the atmosphere, the more th planet warms, leading to further ability to absorb air borne moisture.

So, it seems to me that water molecules in air are more of an issue than carbon (because there’s more of it and it has a greater effect). This in no way trivialises carbon emissions and impacts.

Thoughts?

#12
VYBerlinaV8_the_one_3:19 pm, 31 Oct 08

Water vapour is a feedback, carbon dioxide is a forcing.

Fair enough, but is the effect linear? Does ALL the water vapour convert back to other forms, or are higher concentrations remaining?

#13
Kramer3:44 pm, 31 Oct 08

Great steam & solar power for a data centre! So where’s the rest of the power coming from??? The orginal data center plans, with the scaled down power plant was for 28MW (let alone the 100MW power plant). I don’t think the steam & solar plant will be able cover power requirements for the data centre.

What happens when the sun goes down? Do we fire up the coal power plant next door?? or do we store power in a UPS / battery farm with enough hydrochloric acid to drown & dissolve the whole of Canberra?!?

#14
aidan3:44 pm, 31 Oct 08

I’m no expert. That’s why I trust the real climate scientists.

#15
caf3:51 pm, 31 Oct 08

I think that your assumption a) is a big leap (I would tend to assume that the rate of precipitation is proportional to the concentration of water vapor), and also that the reason water has more effect that carbon dioxide is because there is a lot more of it – on a molecule-vs-molecule basis it’s far less effective.

#16
peterh3:53 pm, 31 Oct 08

Kramer said :

What happens when the sun goes down? Do we fire up the coal power plant next door?? or do we store power in a UPS / battery farm with enough hydrochloric acid to drown & dissolve the whole of Canberra?!?

and the ANU have that one covered as well.

The ANU dish technology is the world’s largest and this contributes to its cost effectiveness. In the longer term, ANU’s associated Ammonia based thermochemical energy storage system can be substituted for direct steam generation, thus providing for 24 hour power production.

#17
Digga4:01 pm, 31 Oct 08

Hi everyone. On the discussion of power plants for data centres, consider this:

TRE’s gas turbines were to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and be”about” 30% better than coal emissions.
This mean CO2 emissions of 187,000 tonnes per year (equivalent to 50,000 family cars)

If the solar array can provide enough power for the data centre for just 50% of the time; then it’s already a better overall situation even with fallback to grid power when required.

This is based on calculation of gas-fired 24 x 7 = 187,000 tonnes CO2 emissions (per TRE’s reports and even with co-generation taken in to account with heat recovery cooling for the data halls)
Solar-powered 50% of the time = zero CO2 emissions (notwithstanding embodied energy to build the development initially)
Grid-powered 50% of the time = worst-case with all power on grid being from fossil fuels = 50% of 267,000 tones = 133,500

Any additional feeds to the grid from the solar (i.e. over-capacity beyond data centres requirement) = added bonus.
Have I got anything wrong here? And the solar can be de-coupled from the data centre.

#18
Gungahlin Al4:13 pm, 31 Oct 08

It’s a common misperception Kramer – people miss the “thermal” part of solar thermal.

How it works is that solar concentrators superheat water in pipes at the foci of the collectors. This steam drives turbines, just like happens in a coal fired power station. But the reason that solar thermal is a viable base load generation method is that the heat can be stored for night-time or overcast use. One way the heat can be stored is in underground aquifers, so it becomes a bit like the geo-thermal processes being planned for outback locations like Innaminka.

#19
sepi4:44 pm, 31 Oct 08

quote
“TRE’s gas turbines were to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and be”about” 30% better than coal emissions.
This mean CO2 emissions of 187,000 tonnes per year (equivalent to 50,000 family cars)”

If the Stanhope govt were really courting this power centre, equivalent to 50 thousand family cars, then their ridiculous statements about wanting to get us all off the road and onto buses are just a joke.

#20
peterh4:51 pm, 31 Oct 08

how many buses = 50 thousand cars?

#21
VYBerlinaV8_the_one_5:19 pm, 31 Oct 08

I think that your assumption a) is a big leap (I would tend to assume that the rate of precipitation is proportional to the concentration of water vapor), and also that the reason water has more effect that carbon dioxide is because there is a lot more of it – on a molecule-vs-molecule basis it’s far less effective.

OK, let’s take this bit by bit.
(I would tend to assume that the rate of precipitation is proportional to the concentration of water vapor) The link above states global average precipitation is remaining constant, simply that the location of the fall varies. As such, more water in the air with unchanged rainfall = more water left in the air. At least, that’s the logic I am using.

the reason water has more effect that carbon dioxide is because there is a lot more of it – on a molecule-vs-molecule basis it’s far less effective
The articles I saw didn’t seem to assert or deny this, but to my mind it probably doesn’t matter. The scientific assertion (and what I’m basing my argument on) is that water in the atmosphere contributes more significantly to the Greenhouse Effect.

Either way, more water in the atmosphere = more retained heat on planet earth. Whether or not it’s ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than carbon based gaseous compounds is probably not that relevant. I made the argument originally in response to post 5 (and to a lesser extent post 4), and I stand by it.

Thoughts?

#22
VYBerlinaV8_the_one_5:20 pm, 31 Oct 08

Italics screwed up, but you get the idea…

#23
caf5:50 pm, 31 Oct 08

Your link above actually says Further, globally there must be an increase in precipitation to balance the enhanced evaporation, which is what I would expect.

The important question is whether the additional water vapor released by a thermally based power station (whether Solar Thermal, Coal-fired or Nuclear is irrelevant) has a comparable global warming effect to that of the carbon dioxide released when the same energy is produced from fossil fuel sources. It would seem that the water vapor effect is negligable as compared to the carbon dioxide effect.

#24
Gungahlin Al6:27 pm, 31 Oct 08

“Either way, more water in the atmosphere = more retained heat on planet earth.”
Comment #8 repeated.
See also albedo.

#25
Lagrange1:43 pm, 01 Nov 08

Well first Berlina the water vapour from a solar thermal plant would not make any difference at all. If you were environmentally responsible, you would do a combined cycle gas plant, which would also lead to significant water vapour ‘emissions’. If this water vapour had any effect it would probably cooling (in general the net effect of the low level clouds = cooling from albedo, high level = warming from greenhouse)

(I would tend to assume that the rate of precipitation is proportional to the concentration of water vapor) The link above states global average precipitation is remaining constant, simply that the location of the fall varies. As such, more water in the air with unchanged rainfall = more water left in the air. At least, that’s the logic I am using.

However you have hit an interesting topic there. It is well accepted that the ability of the atmosphere to hold moisture increases at approximately 7% per degree (water vapour feedback, it responds to the temperature change). In a system in steady state rainfall has to equal evaporation and you would naturally assume they would be proporational to the increase in moisture, but climate models only suggest 1-3%/degree. You will have to wait for some decent observations before we really know.

#26
Lagrange1:54 pm, 01 Nov 08

There is something about this new data centre that makes me suspicious, Wizard haven’t built crap yet, it will be very exciting if they do build their storage system… but who knows? (btw Al their technology is not designed [I don't think] for straight thermal storage so I wouldn’t think that was the plan)

Straight solar thermal (even with thermal storage, which does not give 24hrs despite claims and does not handle non-sunny days) still seems to be missing the poing about data centres, they need to have uninterruptable power supply. (i.e. there are many options around, you wouldn’t choose one which has a higher probability of failure due to reliance on the grid) which would suggest they are planning a large battery installation (Yuk!) especially when they say the solar plant doesn’t need to be co-located. (This is of course all wrong if they use their chemical storage system, but some people have been waiting 20 years for anything to happen with that)

#27
RuffnReady4:52 pm, 02 Nov 08

VYBerlinaV8_the_one_they_all_copy said :

Steam and/or water vapour cause more impact in terms of the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ than carbon emissions, and present in larger quantities also. Typical of many ‘green’ supporters not to let facts stand in the way of self righteousness..

http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/mockler.html

It’s true that atmospheric has a far greater influence on greenhouse warming than GHGs, but the quantity of steam we are talking about would have no effect on the hydrological cycle whatsoever, and would’ve entered the cycle in some manner anyway… which has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the effect that dumping hundreds of billions of tons of previously captured carbon (ie. underground and separate from the natural terrestrial carbon cycle) into the atmosphere in a short period of time (on a climatic/geological scale) is having on the climate.

Want to talk spurious? Pot calling kettle black?

#28
RuffnReady4:53 pm, 02 Nov 08

atmospheric H2O

#29
RuffnReady5:11 pm, 02 Nov 08

caf said :

Your link above actually says Further, globally there must be an increase in precipitation to balance the enhanced evaporation, which is what I would expect.

The important question is whether the additional water vapor released by a thermally based power station (whether Solar Thermal, Coal-fired or Nuclear is irrelevant) has a comparable global warming effect to that of the carbon dioxide released when the same energy is produced from fossil fuel sources. It would seem that the water vapor effect is negligable as compared to the carbon dioxide effect.

Not quite.

The reason H2O is not relevant here is that it is re-assimilated into the global water cycle as would have happened via some route or other – that is, the H2O doesn’t persist in the atmosphere at higher concentrations than it otherwise would.

The same cannot be said for CO2 which persists in the atmosphere for about 100 yrs ( http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/02/aerosols-the-last-frontier/ ) after it is released (the carbon cycle runs a lot slower than the hydrological cycle). Also note that the H20 was an existing part of the hydrological system, whilst the carbon we are putting into the atmosphere has been underground and thus removed from the current cycle for hundreds of millions of years. That is the problem – it’s like dumping a artificial carbon bomb into the carbon cycle, and that’s why we are seeing rapid affects on the climate, and ocean acidification as the oceans (which are big plankton carbon sinks, produce 75% of the world’s oxygen) try to soak up the extra atmospheric carbon. At the same time, we have massively deforested the planet which has reduced the ability of land-based ecosystems to absorb carbon. Bad situation all round, but water vapour due to human effects has NOTHING to do with it.

#30
VYBerlinaV8_the_one_5:35 pm, 02 Nov 08

It’s true that atmospheric has a far greater influence on greenhouse warming than GHGs, but the quantity of steam we are talking about would have no effect on the hydrological cycle whatsoever, and would’ve entered the cycle in some manner anyway… which has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the effect that dumping hundreds of billions of tons of previously captured carbon (ie. underground and separate from the natural terrestrial carbon cycle) into the atmosphere in a short period of time (on a climatic/geological scale) is having on the climate.

I agree. The issue was with primarily with comment 5.

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