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Vivopower: Powering The Digital Future Through Bridging Renewable Energy And High-Demand Computing The push towards decarbonizing our electricity supply is more than just an environmental crusade; it's a crucial response to the looming threat of climate change.

By Pierrick Ribes

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VivoPower

In the labyrinth of modern technological progress, two parallel narratives are unfolding. On one hand, we're witnessing a remarkable surge in computing demands, spearheaded by advancements in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, scientific computing, and digital asset mining. These technologies, once the stuff of science fiction, now drive significant sectors of our economy, and are integral to research and development. However, this digital revolution comes at a cost- a steep increase in energy consumption.

As we grapple with these rising energy needs, the world is simultaneously confronting the urgent necessity to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This pivot, driven by the global climate crisis, is reshaping how we think and use energy. The challenge, however, is multifaceted. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind, while environmentally friendly, introduce new complexities. Their intermittent nature poses significant challenges to the traditional ways of managing and distributing energy, leading to concerns about the stability and reliability of power grids.

The push towards decarbonizing our electricity supply is more than just an environmental crusade; it's a crucial response to the looming threat of climate change. The transition to renewable energy sources is imperative, but it comes with its own set of challenges. The most pressing among these is the issue of intermittency. Unlike the consistent and controllable output from fossil fuels, renewable sources are subject to the whims of nature- the sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow. This leads to a fluctuating energy supply, which can be a nightmare for maintaining the stability of power grids.

This dilemma poses a critical question: as we increase the share of renewable electricity in our total energy mix, how can we ensure a steady and reliable energy supply during the transition? The solution hinges on the development and implementation of sophisticated energy management strategies and technological innovations such as energy storage, smart grid technology, and microgrids. These approaches must be designed to effectively bridge the gap between the inherently intermittent nature of renewable sources, and the steady demand for electricity. By harnessing such innovations, we can maintain a consistent energy supply while making meaningful strides toward a more sustainable and renewable energy future.

Source: VivoPower

THE GROWING DEMAND FOR COMPUTING POWER (AND ITS IMPACT ON ENERGY)

The digital age has escalated our demand for computing power, extending beyond basic computing to complex AI algorithms, large-scale data analysis, and intensive scientific research. These activities, vital for innovation and societal progress, are substantial energy consumers. Data centers, pivotal to our digital infrastructure, are significant global electricity consumers. Estimates vary, but they are believed to account for approximately 3% of global electricity demand. Despite the growing demand for digital services, evidenced by the doubling of internet users since 2010 and a 25-fold increase in global internet traffic, advances in energy efficiency have played a crucial role in moderating the growth of energy demand from data centers.

The projected energy demand from data centers, however, could account for as much as 8% of global energy consumption by 2030, posing a distinct challenge in the realm of energy decarbonization. The key question is: how can we fulfill the growing energy requirements of these data-intensive operations while also committing to reducing our carbon footprint? This dilemma lies at the core of the energy-computing nexus. It demands a harmonized approach that aligns our digital ambitions with our environmental commitments.

Santiago Tenorio, Executive Director, VivoPower. Source: VivoPower

VivoPower stands at the forefront of a transformative era in renewable energy and data center operations. The company's power development business has developed or financed nearly 2GW of solar projects in the U.S. and Australia since 2015. With its active US portfolio of seven utility-scale solar projects, boasting a combined capacity of 365 MW, the company is pioneering a groundbreaking "Power to X" strategy. This strategy is not just about harnessing solar energy; it represents a visionary integration of renewable power generation with advanced data center development. What sets VivoPower's strategy apart is the innovative model of vertically integrated data centers, primarily focused on digital asset mining, which are directly powered by their solar projects "behind the meter." This strategic configuration goes beyond mere efficiency. It ensures that these data centers not only benefit from significantly lower power costs but also actively contribute to grid stability.

Related: Seven Of The Biggest Findings From Zbooni's 2024 MENA cCommerce Report

In an era where spikes in electricity costs and demands are increasingly common, VivoPower's model offers a dual advantage. These data centers are uniquely positioned to sell surplus electricity back to the grid during peak price periods, turning what would be a static energy consumption model into a dynamic, financially beneficial system. Furthermore, the adaptive load capabilities of these data centers represent a revolutionary step in electricity demand management. By reducing or shutting down their load during high-demand periods, they provide crucial support to the grid. This ability is particularly vital as the grid evolves to incorporate a greater share of renewable energy sources, which are inherently variable

VivoPower's "Power-to-X" initiative is centered on its partnership with Backbone Digital, a venture founded by serial tech entrepreneur and data infrastructure developer, Dave Perrill. The joint venture is aimed at marrying data centers -for asset mining or high performance computing (HPC)- with sustainable energy generation. This combination creates a model that meets the burgeoning digital demands, but also does so in an environmentally conscious way while achieving best-in-class project economics.

Dave Perrill, founder, Backbone Digital. Source: VivoPower

At the heart of the design of the initial projects in Texas, USA, is the innovative integration of two advanced solar projects, collectively generating approximately 100MW. This integration fosters a symbiotic ecosystem, where the data centers' energy requirements are efficiently met through a combination of solar power and grid interconnection, achieving remarkably low power costs of under 2.5 cents per kWh. The goal transcends a mere energy supply arrangement; it's about forging a mutually advantageous relationship between data processing and solar energy. This setup not only allows for the physical hedging against power spot market fluctuations, but also enables capitalizing on these fluctuations by strategically selling surplus solar-generated electricity when market conditions are favorable. Central to its innovative business model is the strategic selection of use cases like digital asset mining, AI processing, and large-scale graphics processing unit (GPU) tasks. Some of these tasks are inherently adaptable and noncritical, allowing for flexible scaling of compute load. This flexibility is crucial in two respects: it enables efficient use of available solar energy and facilitates the project's participation in energy arbitrage, enhancing profitability.

Key to the project's design is its dynamic responsiveness to the availability of solar energy and the fluctuations in electricity market prices. During periods when solar energy is abundant, the data centers maximize their computational activities, utilizing solar efficiently. Conversely, when solar power is less available, or when the electricity market prices are high, the project can decrease its computational workload. This reduction is not merely about conserving energy; it also allows the project to sell excess solar power back to the grid at attractive rates. This aspect of the project's operation is particularly significant for grid stabilization. By modulating its energy consumption and output based on solar availability and market demands, the project acts as a stabilizing force on the grid. In times of high demand or low renewable energy production, the project can alleviate strain on the grid by reducing its energy use or contributing surplus solar power.

This dynamic interplay between consumption and supply not only optimizes the project's operational efficiency and profitability, but also plays a crucial role in maintaining grid stability, showcasing the project as a model for integrating renewable energy and advanced computing.

The first two projects are well underway, with construction expected to commence as early as the first half of 2024, with project completion dates starting late 2025 to early 2026. But while this is happening, Vivopower and Backbone Digital are already actively exploring project development opportunities in the GCC and other parts of the world following a similar strategy of vertically integrating power generation assets.

Source: VivoPower

In summary, the Backbone Digital x VivoPower strategic joint venture is not merely a technological innovation but a blueprint for the future of energy and computing. This infrastructure platform addresses the dual challenges of fulfilling the increasing demands of HPC, and the imperative of utilizing renewable energy sources. By tackling these interlinked challenges with innovative solutions, their projects stand as scalable and replicable models, poised to transform the way our digital infrastructure is powered, prioritizing environmental responsibility.

In addition to solar, other focus areas include pioneering waste to energy initiatives, and transforming waste into a sustainable energy source for off-grid compute infrastructure. Additionally, the partnership aims to tap into stranded energy projects, converting neglected resources like landfill or flare gas into usable power. A key endeavor is optimizing data center performance in high-heat areas like the UAE and KSA, leveraging the team's expertise in liquid-cooled solutions. This move not only showcases their commitment to sustainable energy but also addresses unique environmental and technological challenges in the region.

Explore how impact investing aligns capital with positive societal and environmental outcomes- check out our special report on impact investing here.

This article was originally published on Lucidity Insights, a partner of Entrepreneur Middle East in developing special reports on the Middle East and Africa's tech and entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Related: Paradigm Shift: The World Simply Can't Afford To Make Unsustainable Investments Anymore

Pierrick Ribes

Contributing Writer and Researcher, Lucidity Insights

Pierrick Ribes is a Contributing Writer and Researcher for Lucidity Insights. He is interested in disruptive technologies such as Web3, blockchain, digital currencies and retail tech. His career in strategy consultancy coupled with his inquisitive mind make him a thoughtful and investigative storyteller.

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