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Portuguese project focuses on reducing the carbon footprint of supercomputers and data centres

31st May 2021

Supercomputers are systems with huge data processing capacity, capable of performing millions of billions of calculations per second and solving complex problems, in fields like engineering and science. However, this complex hardware requires particular facilities and cooling systems, and it uses up significant amounts of power. In order to improve the sustainability of this equipment, a consortium established by INESC TEC and INEGI designed the Sustainable HPC project,

The project aims to develop an energy management solution that promotes the decarbonisation of the system's operation, including energy efficiency procedures. This solution will enable greener operation procedures for future advanced computing facilities and data centres.

The Deucalion supercomputer, to be installed in the Minho Advanced Computing Center, will act as the "living laboratory" for testing different energy conversion and storage technologies, as well as new developments in the management system, performed by a team of researchers. In addition to the technical feasibility, the economic feasibility and the impact of available technological alternatives will also be explored.

Luís Seca, coordinator of the project at INESC TEC and a senior researcher at the Centre for Power and Energy Systems (CPES), stated that “this supercomputer, with a massive calculation power, will be at the service of the entire scientific community, leading to a significant power consumption - above 1MW when operating at peak performance. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on reducing the carbon footprint to the maximum". "Creating a large self-consumption facility in a country that is en route to decarbonise the electricity-generating system would not make any sense; instead, the best action is resorting to the grid availability whenever the electricity transmitted originates from renewable energy sources", added the researcher.

Ana Magalhães, the project's coordinator at INEGI, stated that the Institute's team is developing “an innovative cooling solution that may lead to a reduction of more than 60% in electricity consumption, namely when compared to other conventional solutions".

"The recovery and reuse of residual heat is also being explored, namely applying the heat generated by the hardware into the HVAC systems of the building itself, as well as those of surrounding building, thus reducing costs by 30%", concluded Ana Magalhães.

The operation of this supercomputer rely on electricity from renewable energy sources, exploring the endogenous capacity resulting from the installation of solar panels and wind turbines, the storage in second-life vanadium redox and lithium batteries (from electric vehicles) and the grid (namely during periods when the electricity transmitted originates from renewable energy sources) - which will lead to “a reduction in CO2 emissions of around 680/t per year”.

The project Sustainable HPC has a global budget of €7.3M, financed by the Innovation Support Fund (FAI) at €3.2M and by the Energy Efficiency Fund (FEE) at €4.1M.

The FAI is promoted by ADENE - Energy Agency to finance the national scientific system in the fields of innovation and technological development, focusing on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. The main objective of the FEE is to support programmes and actions that promote the measures included in the National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency (PNAEE), thus constituting itself as the specific instrument for financing the programmes and actions contemplated in all its lines of action.

Porto - May 27, 2020


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