Google Is Now Reducing Data Center Energy Use During Local Power Emergencies

Oct. 3, 2023
Google has shared details of its new demand response system, designed to reduce the energy use of data centers in times of local power emergencies.

Google has now shared details of a system optimized to reduce the energy use of data centers when there is a local power emergency. Core functions of the system, which has the hallmarks of a universally applicable technology, include postponing low-priority workloads, and moving others to other regions that are less constrained.

Regarding the system, Michael Terrell, Google's Senior Director for Energy and Climate, explained in a LinkedIn post how the new demand response capability can temporarily reduce power consumption from Google data centers when it’s needed, and provide flexibility to the local grids that power its data center operations.

Demand response helps grid operators serve their customers reliably during times of need, such as in times of supply constraints or extreme weather events. Terrell's post empasized that "demand response can be a big tool to help grids run more cost-effectively and efficiently, and it can accelerate system-wide grid decarbonization."

Google’s Climate and Energy teams created the new system, which Terrell called an important development toward running the company's data centers "intelligently, efficiently and carbon-free."

"I’m proud of the team effort at Google that delivered this demand response capability and put it into practice through multiple pilots with grid partners around the world," added Terrell. He emphasized that large energy consumers can play a critical role in flexibly reducing demand to support power grid operations.

Evolution of demand response

The system as developed and piloted by Google represents a new way to reduce its data centers’ electricity consumption when there is high stress on the local power grid, by shifting some non-urgent compute tasks to other times and locations, without impacting the most commonly used Google services.

DCF has written about real-time data movement and the opportunities it creates. As far back as 2021, site founder and present Editor at Large Rich Miller observed how Google has been moving IT workloads between its data centers to boost its use of renewable energy; for instance, by shifting the data processing for YouTube videos to locations where green power is plentiful.

This approach creates powerful new opportunities to build climate-aware cloud applications. Google’s carbon-aware computing strategy demonstrates how software and network connectivity can transcend traditional limitations on green computing. This is a growing priority for hyperscale cloud builders and their users, as climate-driven disasters bring new urgency to sustainability.

Moving data and applications between data centers in real time will never stop requiring more sophisticated software and enormous amounts of network capacity. As the world’s largest computing platform, Google has the resources to be a trailblazer in this effort, which aligns with its proportionally sized corporate commitments toward reducing its climate impact.

In operation since 2020, Google's carbon-intelligent computing platform shifts compute tasks and their associated energy consumption to times and places where carbon-free energy is available on the grid. The platform shifts the timing of workloads within data centers to match their energy use to the availability of renewable sources.

That move laid the foundation for the next step of moving the actual compute capacity to more favorable locations, as described above. Now, Google is using this task-shifting capability for they demand response system, as a means of temporarily reducing power consumption at certain data centers to provide flexibility when it is needed, to help local grids continue operating reliably and efficiently.

Inside Google's demand response 

Taking a step back, Google's blog notes how, "Historically, growing energy demand has been met primarily by adding new, often carbon-intensive, resources to the grid. Reducing demand to support grid operations was mostly an emergency measure, deployed only as a last resort."

However, the company said its recent research indicates that "demand response can be a critical tool for electricity grids, helping to reduce the need for investment in new fossil fuel-based resources, while supporting the growth of variable renewable energy sources" such as solar and wind.

Demand response also stands to improve grid operations. As emphasized by Google's blog, "By building out a new approach for demand response across our data centers — and paving the way for others to do the same — we are helping unlock these important grid-level benefits."

Google's blog explained that the company's new demand response approach builds on the software that runs its carbon-intelligent computing platform, adding new capabilities to temporarily reduce the power demand of a Google data center, when called on to do so by an external power system partner, such as a utility or grid operator.

When Google receives notice from a grid operator of a forecasted local grid event, for example an extreme weather event that will cause a supply constraint, via the new system it can alert its global computing planning system to when and where such an event will take place.

This alert activates an algorithm that generates hour-by-hour instructions for specified data centers to limit non-urgent compute tasks for the duration of the grid event, and allows them to be rescheduled after the grid event has passed. When feasible, some of these tasks are re-routed to a data center on a different power grid.

All task routing is done without need for additional computer hardware and without impacting the performance of heavily used Google services on the order of Search, Maps, YouTube, Google Cloud, and Workspace (which includes Gmail, Docs, Sheets and more) that individuals, businesses, and public sector organizations rely on around the clock.

"When we take these actions at times of high stress on local grids, we help our grid partners continue to serve customers reliably," said Google via its blog.

Pilot programs

Google said its demand response pilot programs are in effect in parts of Europe and Asia, and centrally in the U.S., where in Oregon, Nebraska, and the Southeast, recent extreme weather events, including heat waves and winter storms, have increased local power demand, straining grids, and causing energy prices to surge.

In collaboration with its local utility partners, Google affirmed that via the demand response system, it reduced its data centers’ power consumption in these regions during these periods, helping to ensure that the local grids could operate reliably in meeting the needs of local communities.

Chris Allen, Director of Power Resources, for Oregon's Northern Wasco County PUD, remarked:

"As the Western US continues to improve system reliability, demand response capabilities will provide tremendous local and regional value during extreme events. Google and NWCPUD successfully demonstrated day-ahead DR capabilities at Google's facilities in The Dalles, Oregon under a recent pilot. We look forward to continuing to work with Google to expand and improve this flexibility as these capabilities mature."

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About the Author

Matt Vincent

A B2B technology journalist and editor with more than two decades of experience, Matt Vincent is Editor in Chief of Data Center Frontier.

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