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Does Google's floating data center plan hold water?

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 30, 2013
Speculation swirls around two mysterious barges as officials remain tight-lipped

The plan to use modular shipping containers stacked together matches the look of the structures on the two barges.

Since the data center is on a floating platform, it could be easily moved to an area in need, such as one struck by natural disaster that is putting a heavy load on the local infrastructure.

The patent also noted that a ship or barge, which would carry one or multiple data centres, could anchor in an area offshore where wave or tidal motion is strong enough to power onboard electrical generators.

The floating data centre, according to the patent, would be fueled by motion-powered, floating machines arranged in a grid and wired together. The machines, such as those built by Pelamis Wave Power Ltd in Edinburgh, Scotland, capture the natural motion of the waves, tides and current and convert it into electricity or pumping power for the data centre's cooling pumps.

Pelamis, which is specifically mentioned in Google's patent, manufactures an ocean wave energy converter that generally operates in waters deeper than 164 feet about one to six miles offshore. The wave power machines, which are about 11 feet in diameter and about 492 feet long, can be linked end-to-end to form a farm of machines.

The farm could be held in place by mooring lines attached to anchors. They also could float on top of the water or be submerged, protecting them from strong storms or from being damaged by passing ships.

Google noted in its patent that each machine can generate approximately 750 kilowatts of power, while an array or farm of machines can produce more than 2.25 megawatts.

About 40 machines spread over a square kilometer could produce approximately 30 megawatts of power, Google reported.

Google's patent also noted that wind turbines could be used to supplement energy production and batteries onboard the floating platform or ship could store any excess energy produced.

The system also would use seawater-to-freshwater converters. The cold water would then be used to cool the data centers, which can produce great amounts of heat.

Cappuccio noted that only a very large company, such as Google or Facebook, would need a data center large enough to require upwards of 30 megawatts of power.

"There are a lot of issues here," he added. "If they were to do this, they'd have to think about fishing areas and international shipping lanes. And what about telecom? They're not going to use satellites to support the amount of workload they're talking about. They'd have to lay underwater telecom cable and that doesn't make them mobile."

Cappuccio, though, said Google is known for some out-of-the-box thinking and could be working on validating its idea.

 

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