The bank knew that using fuel cells would be expensive. In Nebraska, AC energy costs only about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, whereas electricity from fuel cells costs about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. It would have cost $2.2 million to build a data center that used AC power; using fuel cells raised the price tag to $3.4 million. Dooley says fuel cells are worth the higher price, and the ROI is excellent because the bank doesn't suffer lost transactions.
Of course, other enterprises might not be willing to pay such a high price for great reliability. "Fuel cell technology is not there in terms of volume and scale to support larger data centers," says Nemertes' Ritter. "But down the road, it is very interesting potentially as a backup power source."
Alternative power has a bright future for data centers. Ritter says there may be no other option in the coming years, if traditional-energy prices continue to soar. Whether it's solar power, gas turbines, fuel cells or some emerging option -- such as harnessing the power of ocean waves -- it's clear that new energy sources will play a role in the data centers of the future.
Brandon is a former IT manager who now writes about technology.