The solar-energy project that Switch just launched at its data center at Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center east of Sparks is the largest of its type ever built anywhere.
The project may prove to be equally big for northern Nevada’s role in the global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Once the project launched by Switch last month is complete, the Las Vegas-based company will produce 127 megawatts of electricity (roughly the amount needed to power 80,000 homes) from solar panels in Storey County. At the same time, Switch is installing a 240-megawatt battery storage system at its data center.
But none of the power will go onto the public grid.
Instead, the new system is known as a “behind-the-meter” installation because it will be used entirely to power the Switch data center. The installation will be the biggest of its type in the world.
Large-scale storage is “absolutely critical” to the world’s transition to renewable fuels, says Dr. Ron Lembke, an associate professor of operations management at the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Without storage, most renewable power isn’t reliable. The wind stops blowing at windmills; night’s darkness falls at solar farms.
“We have to get off fossil fuels to reduce global warming, and in order to be able to ultimately replace them with renewables, we have to develop storage technologies,” Lembke says. “Batteries are the leading candidates to do that.”
Data centers such as the Switch facility are among the hubs of the digital world, housing tens of thousands of computer servers. But they consume vast amounts of electricity to power the tens of thousands of computer servers they house, and power costs are a key selling point for Switch.
It tells potential clients in the San Francisco Bay Area that power costs at its Reno-area facility — which the company calls “The Citadel” — are less than half as expensive as electricity provided by California utilities.
What’s more, the power in Nevada is generated entirely from renewable sources, Switch says.
Switch also pitches Reno’s easy access to the Bay Area, its low costs of operating a business and its attractive tax environment as incentives for companies to move their data operations to The Citadel.
Lembke notes that the potential to develop solar power in northern Nevada may not be as good as the potential around Las Vegas, but it’s still going to be attractive to developers of data centers.
“We have plenty of high-quality solar potential here in northern Nevada,” he says. “Companies that use a lot of energy in northern Nevada can certainly get their money’s worth by building solar production and storage capacity here.”
The storage facilities at the Switch data center will rely on large-scale batteries manufactured just down the road at Tesla’s Gigafactory.
“The more the world shifts to renewables, the more the world needs storage, then the more the world is going to need Tesla Megapacks, built right here,” Lembke says.
Capital Dynamics, a London-based company that’s involved in about $6.4 billion in renewable projects worldwide, is providing the financial muscle for the Switch project. Con Edison Clean Energy Business, a unit of the New York City utility, is managing the integration of the solar and battery-storage systems.