Microsoft’s Project Natick: an underwater data center
In June 2018 Microsoft submersed a 12-meter-long steel cylinder in 35 meters of water near the Orkney Islands off Scotland to test the viability of subsea data centers. In mid-2020 it hoisted the barnacle-coated object from the seabed to assess the results.
According the company, submarine data centers offer five main advantages:
More than half of the world's population lives within 200 kilometers of a seacoast. Shorter distances between people and data centers mean faster internet speeds.
Submersed data centers are surrounded by abundant, cost-free cooling: seawater.
. Microsoft’s initial findings are that data centers are readily compatible with sensitive ocean ecosystems. For example, the increase in ambient water temperature will be tiny (0.001 degrees Celsius), and the sound emitted by data centers is only audible within a few meters.
The seabed provides a reliable, stable environment. IT components will be in an atmosphere of nitrogen, not oxygen, which will eliminate corrosion and, ideally, the need for maintenance.
Nearby offshore wind farms or tidal power plants can provide renewable electricity.
Microsoft rated Project Natick a success. The fault rate, for example, was eight times lower than at a terrestrial data center. The company is convinced that underwater data centers make logistical, environmental, and economic sense. One option would be to produce shipping-container-sized data centers and transport them by truck or ship to where they’re needed.
Visioverdis: vertical gardens
In May 2020 a small (8.5 by 3.5 meters) rectangular garden was unveiled in central Stuttgart in southwest Germany. This wouldn’t normally be noteworthy. But this garden is attached to the facade of a building ten meters above the sidewalk and grows horizontally. It was developed by Visioverdis, a startup founded in 2017 by agronomist and gravitational biologist Dr. Alina Schick. Small motors cause the trees and bushes to rotate slowly (0.1 to 1.6 revolutions per minute) around their horizontal axis. This alters their perception of light and gravity and almost completely stops them from growing in length. Instead, their crowns become fuller and leafier, which makes photosynthesis more efficient. Sensors control the automatic irrigation, rotation, and LED lighting of the mini-garden. Visioverdis says its vertical gardens provide cities with a new, flexible option for expanding green spaces and thus urban carbon sequestering. They also help cool buildings. Visioverdis has received inquiries from other cities around Germany and elsewhere.
Panda power: animal-shaped solar farms
The giant panda is China’s national animal. The latest figures indicate that fewer than 1,900 live in the wild. To celebrate this beloved but endangered species, China has built two panda-shaped solar farms: a 100 MW facility in Datong roughly 300 kilometers west of Beijing and a 60 MW facility in Guangxi province bordering Vietnam. Monocrystalline solar modules represent the darker patches of the panda’s fur, thin-film modules the light patches. The solar farms have information centers to reinforce awareness of the environmental benefits of renewable energy and the importance of sustainable development. More panda solar farms are planned, including on the Fiji Islands and the Philippines.
Poland lacks pandas but has lots of deer. Fittingly, it intends to install a 10 MW deer-shaped solar farm outside Jelenia Gora, a town located about 35 kilometers from the Czech border. The deer’s features will be depicted by 30,000 black and blue solar modules. The solar farm, which will cost around €9 million to build, will produce enough green electricity to power about 4,500 households.
Part two will feature more curious sustainable innovations: futuristic super trees in Singapore, large floating solar farms, and playgrounds at street crossings in Barcelona.