Power grid crisis: Japanese data centers, saved by the bell?

Ten days ago we spent some attention to the power grid crisis in Japan and the impact on data centers. More news has now became available. In the aftermath of the big earthquake in Japan power shortage remains a big problem in Japan. Tokyo’s government is concerned that the North will not be able to maintain critical power provision during the summer. The Japanese Government issued papers recently showing forecast supply and demand for electricity in the Tokyo region. It showed that supply capacity for TEPCO was 55.20GW while demand was expected to be 60GW while at Tohokyu EPCO, 12.3GW could be produced while demand would be 14.80GW.

Starting July 1 all facilities that consume more than 500kWh are ordered to reduce their peak power usage by 15 percent from a year earlier. Some government buildings will be asked to save more, in some cases up to 21% on weekdays between 1 July and 30 September from 9am to 8pm. In most cases, businesses are required to decrease the amount of lighting used and cut down on staff hours at work, otherwise risk being fined. Fines for noncompliance are high, the equivalent of US$12,500 for each hour over the limit.

In Tokyo area, more than 70% of the country’s data centers are located.

Originally the Japan Data Center Council (JDCC) proposed grouping Japan’s data center operations into one collective for the purpose of managing the proposed rolling blackouts. It suggested that this would reduce problems that would occur if each individual data center had to run according to the blackouts each day, a measure that would increase maintenance and other costs considerably.

It is said, the plan was scrapped because a lot of data centers actually ran on diesel generators, which take longer to start up and require more uninterruptible power supply capacity, cooling systems and have more complicated maintenance requirements.

The cuts for the data centers will be stopped at 5%. JDCC calculations found that anything more than this would require allowances in time for data centers to carry out server consolidation, renew equipment and virtualize further to make way for the electricity cuts.

Data centers operators have fought the cap with some success. They argued their facilities are critical infrastructure and that many had already slashed their consumption before the earthquake as part of energy-efficiency projects. Also, companies have been “evacuating” servers and storage from Tokyo offices to their data centers because of power shortages in the capital, making it even harder to reduce demand, Yamanaka (member of the Japan Data Center Council’s steering committee) said at the DatacenterDynamics San Francisco 2011 conference

“We told the government it was physically impossible” to meet the reduction targets, he said. The government eventually backed down and has reduced the target for data centers to between zero and 15 percent, depending on how much they reduced energy use the year before.

Data centers in Japan will now join railways and hospitals, which won’t have to comply with such strict measures after the Japan Data Center Council won approval for the measures to be lifted.

They will, however, be measured on the operations data centers are responsible for. Those running banks and financial services, for example, will enjoy ongoing power use. Others may see variations on required reductions of 0% to 15%, depending on their business case.

“In order to maintain the policy of avoiding planned blackouts, we will steadily implement installation of additional power capacity as we have planned, and we continuously do our best efforts to secure supply capacity.” Yamanaka said.

Data centers are also trying to find ways to cope with long-term power shortages and the price hikes that result, and how to replenish their fuel supplies more quickly. Service providers may alter contracts so that customers shoulder some of the increased cost for raised energy prices.

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