A New Age in Energy: Supercomputers Are Now Running off of Solar Power
Computing with light.
When The Sun Comes Out
The new Hikari supercomputer project, now online in Austin, Texas, is a solar-powered, high voltage direct current (HVDC) advanced computing system. During daylight hours it is powered by solar panels that shade a parking lot; after the sun goes down, the system goes back to using AC power from the grid like a traditional computer.
Hikari has been online at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) in Austin since late August, 2016. The project represents a collaboration between TACC and NTT FACILITIES, INC., a Japanese company.
The Hikari HVDC power feeding system was designed to run on DC voltage; this means that it can run on 380 volts DC instead of needing an AC supply including conversion steps. The end result, compared to conventional systems, is a savings of approximately 15 percent.
Given that data centers in the United States consumed about 1.8 percent of all energy nationwide in 2014—around 70 billion kilowatt hours—a savings of 15 percent is rather significant. HVDC also makes powering computers with other renewable energy sources easier.
A Truly Cool Computer
The Hikari project also uses a warm water cooling system for more energy efficiency. This means there is no need for fans within the nodes, and the unit uses less energy for excess heat removal and water refrigeration. The solar energy that would otherwise have gone toward powering fans and chillers can instead power additional computational work.
James Stark, director of Engineering and Construction at Electronic Environments Corporation (EEC) of NTT FACILITIES, INC., commented to Phys.org: “That’s really one of our main focuses, trying to make data centers more sustainable so that we’re reducing overall power consumption within an industry that has traditionally consumed a lot of power.”
One of the most important benefits of sustainable power supply systems is reliability. The Sendai Microgrid, another NTT FACILITIES, INC. project, continued to power facilities at Tohoku Fukushi University after the Tohoku earthquake on March 11, 2011 even as blackouts left the rest of the area without power. Other NTT FACILITIES HVDC microgrids have been very successful over time.
According to Phys.org: “The Hikari supercomputer cluster consists of 432 Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Apollo 8000 XL730f servers coupled with HPE DL380 and DL360 nodes that are interconnected with a first-of-its-kind Mellanox End-to-End EDR InfinBand at 100 gigabytes per second. Over 10,000 cores from ‘Haswell’ Xeon processors will deliver more than 400 teraflops.”
The Hikari system will reach production in 2017. Medical researchers at the University of Texas will then use it to fight disorders like autism and diseases like cancer.
“We really hope this project will demonstrate the efficiency advantages of using 380 volt DC, not only in data centers, but in any commercial building,” James Stark said to Phys.org. “The hope is that the research that comes out of this demonstration project will help to open the door to more widespread use of 380 volt systems throughout data centers and commercial buildings worldwide.”