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Switch turns to Tesla batteries for solar-power storage

News Analysis
Jul 28, 20203 mins
Data Center

Switch will power its giant data centers with massive amounts of solar energy and use Tesla Megapacks to store it.

A hand holds a lightbulb swathed in leaves and surrounded by symbols of renewable energy.
Credit: ipopba / Getty Images

Data center provider Switch has selected Tesla as the battery supplier for a massive solar project at its northern Nevada data-center facilities.

It’s a geographically easy alliance as Switch’s campus is right near Tesla’s Gigafactory Nevada manufacturing facility. While best known for its cars, Tesla has also made quite an entry in the battery space with products such as the Powerwall, Powerpack, and Megapack energy storage products.

Switch recently broke ground on Gigawatt 1, a huge project that will use solar panels from First Solar to generate a total of 555 megawatts (MWs) of power at three locations and Tesla Megapacks to store the energy.

Data centers are frequently built close to renewable sources of energy, usually hydropower. That’s why many Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft data centers are sitting by rivers. Solar is the easiest form of power to collect, but it’s also the most fickle. Solar-powered sites are at the mercy of sufficient power storage to supply electricity during darkness and cloudy days..

Adam Kramer, executive vice president of strategy at Switch, says peak solar production is around 1 p.m. when the sun is overhead, but overall peak consumer demand is around 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., when the sun is either setting or has set, depending on the time of year.

In running a data center, there are no peak hours. “The Internet is 24/7. If they aren’t using it in New York, they are using it in L.A. We have a very flat power profile. Our load looks the same at 2 a.m. as it does at 2 p.m.,” Kramer told me.

With solar, and especially in Nevada, Switch had “an overabundance of solar generation but nowhere to store it. During the day we generate max power but [have] no need to use it.”

Advances in Tesla battery storage are a key piece of the puzzle. Switch has been running on 100% solar power since 2016 but couldn’t store it because “the technology just wasn’t there for it,” Kramer says.

Enter Tesla’s Megapack. The Megapack is a beefed-up version of the Tesla PowerWall used for individual homes to store solar power and the PowerPack technology Tesla uses in its electric vehicles. Each Megapack can hold up to three megawatt hours (MWhs) of storage and 1.5 MW of inverter capacity.

So with enough Megapacks, sunlight energy captured at 1 p.m. can be powering the data center at 1 a.m.

Kramer says this benefits not only Switch but also its customers. “We are able to lock in extremely competitive pricing for switching our clients for the long-term and not be subject to market volatility. When we’re able to reduce our cost, it provides cost savings for all our clients,” he says.

So if Switch can power its massive data centers with solar energy even when the sun does not shine, why can’t you?

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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