MTN Group announced in July that it has installed Africa’s first solar cooling system at its Johannesburg, Africa data center. MTN, Africa’s largest mobile telecommunications company, deployed the Concentrating Solar Cooling System in the hope that it would help mitigate issues caused by an unreliable supply of power from the national energy grid.
The data center cooling system is made up of 242 solar mirrors that cover more than 5,000 square feet. The mirrors follow the sun’s movements and use the absorbed energy to generate pressurized water that reaches 356 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot water is then used to power an absorption chiller that creates cold water to circulate around the Johannesburg data center to cool IT equipment. The system uses Linear Fresnel Concentrating Solar Power to generate power from the sun, with a peak cooling capacity of 330 kW.
The mirrors use a GPS tracking system to follow the sun that can change movements based on orientation, date and time of day. The information allows the mirrors to move in such a way that ensures the sun’s rays are focused on the central absorber tube that generates the heat. When it is cloudy the mirrors are able to go into a protective stowing position and can turn on a self-cleaning mode when it rains.
Lack of Reliable Power Driving Data Center Sustainability
Southern Africa has seen a dramatic rise in the price of electricity as utility companies in the region claim higher rates are necessary to create new projects that will meet growing demand for power. At the same time, several countries in the Southern African Development Community – including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are also facing increased power shortages. A lack of reliable electricity and growing energy rates are raising the cost of running an Africa data center and most service providers are forced to use generators.
The power crisis in the region has caused MTN to significantly boost investment in renewable energy technologies and data center sustainability techniques to avoid relying on an unstable national grid.
“MTN is acutely aware of the impact of global warming and its adverse impact on emerging markets including South Africa,” said MTN South Africa CEO Zunaid Bulbulia. “We continuously explore ways in which we can not only reduce our carbon footprint, but it will substantially reduce our electricity consumption which will release additional capacity for the national grid.”