update Datacentre company NextDC will outfit its Port Melbourne datacentre, M1, with solar panels over the next few months and expects to do the same with its other facilities in the next year.
M1's rooftop will become home to up to 400kW of solar panels, which is expected to generate 55MWh/year. The installation will cost NextDC $1.2 million and, according to the company, will represent Australia's largest commercial rooftop photovoltaic system once completed.
It will be some four times larger than the recent 100kW Wharf Theatre commercial installation, which was only made possible at the time through a donation of $2 million from Dr Zhengrong Shi, chairman of photovoltaic company Suntec Power, and his wife. There are other solar array installations that are larger, but these are typically funded or owned by the state governments.
The installation at M1 will offset about 670 tonnes of CO2 each year if its output targets are reached, and will power 3 to 4 per cent of the energy requirements for the datacentre, but NextDC CEO Bevan Slattery has further greening plans.
NextDC will combine the solar panels with direct air cooling and tri-generation to create energy-smart datacentres, and future datacentres will be designed in a way that allows more panels to be used.
After the installation at M1 is completed, Slattery plans to make further investments at its other facilities.
"We are proud to be the first datacentre operator in Australia to invest in solar energy," Slattery said.
"In fact, we are also committing to install up to 1MW of solar energy within the next 12 months at our upcoming datacentre facilities."
The decision to go solar was not so much an economic decision (although Slattery believes that power prices still have a long way to go up) but rather more of a corporate social-responsibility decision.
The company said it was following the US trend of investing in large-scale solar projects, such as Google's funding solar farms and Apple's proposal of a 20MW solar farm for its North Carolina datacentre.
Helping NextDC along the way is solar power firm, Energy Matters, which will be responsible for the construction and installation at M1.
"As one of first truly large-scale, privately funded and owned rooftop [photovoltaic] solar systems, we see this as the start of something big for commercial solar in Australia and applaud NextDC for taking the lead," Energy Matters managing director Jeremy Rich said.
Updated 5.25pm, 19 March 2012: added information on how much of the datacentre the solar panels will power.