Renewable energy from wind and solar power holds the promise of providing electricity while reducing carbon emissions. But today, that potential is restricted by the modern power grid, which curtails renewable power generation or forces providers to sell electricity at negative prices when production exceeds demand. 

For the last several years, UChicago CS Professor Andrew A. Chien has examined this situation through his “Zero-Carbon Cloud” project, asking whether this “stranded power” could help energy-hungry data centers operate more cleanly. In a new paper with Sangwon Suh and Jiajia Zheng of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the team proposes that data load migration — “moving bits, not watts” — could reduce renewable curtailment and cut emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons.

Because moving electricity from areas of surplus to other regions is expensive, the researchers instead propose shifting the load of data centers to grids with excess renewable energy. For example, data centers in Virginia that rely predominantly on electricity produced by coal plants could instead send work to centers on California’s grid, where curtailment of renewables is common practice.

The study found that deploying this data load migration from 2015 to 2019 could have used 600,000 megawatt-hours of curtailed energy from the California grid, reducing the equivalent of 240,000 metric tons of CO2 per year.

“That is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 600 million miles of driving using average passenger vehicles,” Suh said in a UCSB release. “And, rather than costing money, each ton of CO2 emissions averted by switching power grids would actually provide around $240 in savings due to decreased spending on electricity.”

Chien said that the analysis was encouraging for the vision of the Zero-Carbon Cloud, which he has also explored through proposals to give retired computing equipment a “second life” or co-locate data centers near renewable energy providers.

“The results show that shifting data center loads across grids is not only an economically attractive approach to increasing greening the cloud, it can also increase the utilization of renewable generation in the power grid,” said Chien, the William Eckhardt Distinguished Service Professor of Computer Science and Director of the CERES Center for Unstoppable Computing. “While many approaches are needed, data center load shifting has significant advantages compared to energy sharing across grids (e.g. energy interchange markets) and energy storage (e.g. advanced batteries).”

For more on the study, see the UCSB story, “Moving Bits, Not Watts” or coverage in Science Daily.

Related News

More UChicago CS stories from this research area.
No Name

Asst. Prof. Rana Hanocka Receives NSF Grant to Develop New AI-Driven 3D Modeling Tools

Feb 28, 2023
Two students looking at a wearable device
No Name

High School Students Find Their Place in Computing Through Wearables Workshop

Jan 13, 2023
No Name

UChicago AI Summit Examines Promise and Concerns for Science and Society

Nov 01, 2022
No Name

Five UChicago CS Students Named to Siebel Scholars 2023 Class

Sep 22, 2022
No Name

High School Students in College Prep Program Visit UChicago CS

Aug 23, 2022
No Name

New 2022-23 Faculty Add Expertise in Linguistics, Visualization, Economics, and Data Science Education

Aug 11, 2022
No Name

DSI Summer Lab Returns In-Person With 49 Students From Across the U.S.

Jun 14, 2022
No Name

WiGRAPH Features Asst. Prof. Rana Hanocka on Her Research and Career Path

May 11, 2022
No Name

Junchen Jiang Wins CAREER Award to Study Using ML to Optimize Video Experiences

Mar 24, 2022
No Name

New Assistant Professor Rana Hanocka Combines AI, 3D, and Computer Graphics

Feb 09, 2022
No Name

Trio of New UChicago CS Faculty Join for 2021-22 Academic Year

Sep 16, 2021
No Name

Two UChicago CS PhD Students Receive 2021 Harper Fellowship

Jun 07, 2021
arrow-down-largearrow-left-largearrow-right-large-greyarrow-right-large-yellowarrow-right-largearrow-right-smallbutton-arrowclosedocumentfacebookfacet-arrow-down-whitefacet-arrow-downPage 1CheckedCheckedicon-apple-t5backgroundLayer 1icon-google-t5icon-office365-t5icon-outlook-t5backgroundLayer 1icon-outlookcom-t5backgroundLayer 1icon-yahoo-t5backgroundLayer 1internal-yellowinternalintranetlinkedinlinkoutpauseplaypresentationsearch-bluesearchshareslider-arrow-nextslider-arrow-prevtwittervideoyoutube