Wave energy could play a positive role in running subsea data centers in the deep ocean

On the coast of Hawaii, our system obviously contains Vicor components. We will operate underwater autonomous vehicles and multiple data collection systems on the ocean floor. Renewable energy devices and wave energy devices at sea have never been able to do this. So this is groundbreaking stuff. This is the exciting part of it. I mean, it’s exciting for all of us to be able to really bring new renewable resources into the mainstream commercial market, research market, defense and security market. So it’s exciting, but it’s new. We are breaking new ground here.

I’m fascinated to hear that Microsoft is putting data centers underwater. The steel industry didn’t say, let’s build a foundry under the Atlantic Ocean. This is not what usually happens. This seems very exotic to me. I don’t want you to talk about Microsoft itself. But I guess you’ve at least learned about the phenomenon of underwater data centers and some of their special needs and whether C-Power can play a role. Can I ask you to talk about what you know about that?

Yes, what Microsoft did was Project Natick. This is an interesting approach. So the goal of putting a data center underwater is really to save money on the air conditioning budget. Data centers consume a lot of electricity, a large part of it — maybe you or Bill know what percentage that is — but a large part of it is keeping equipment cool. So part of the goal of putting a data center on the ocean floor is to help reduce cooling budgets, since seawater will naturally keep the system at a reasonable and cool temperature. And it’s easier to dissipate any heat that might be generated by it.

So we found this to be a very exciting application. Yep, that’s where you really start thinking about megawatt-scale systems. Whether you’re running a deep-sea or subsea data center, or trying to remove diesel generator sets from an offshore fish farm that powers a village. Again, you’re a little agnostic about the end use, but we like this type of app. And it’s definitely coming! It makes sense. So you’re definitely seeing that happen more and more as we grow.

The nature of wave energy. It seems to be as good as you can get. I’ve seen people complain that when you put the wave generator on the shore, some versions are said to be loud. Wind energy might seem like an easy thing to do, but there’s always something about the “not in my backyard” thing, with these giant turbines rolling on top of a hill or off shore. What “something” does a wave generator have?

This is a great question. Noise is of course always an issue. Are you disturbing mammals or fish, birds by making too much noise? We intentionally designed our system to avoid such problems. In fact, we had a system for 13 months in Puget Sound, and they went out to measure the noise, but they couldn’t distinguish our system from the background noise: from the ships and the waves themselves. When you have a storm it’s generally a very noisy place. So you really – at least in our system – you can’t really distinguish it from normal.

But one thing is for sure, everything has trade-offs. But if the world is moving away from carbon, then we need to figure out ways to supplement or provide primary electricity reliably, consistently, and efficiently. From our perspective, wave energy is a great resource for all of these reasons we’ve discussed. So like you said, there are tradeoffs to everything.

One of the interesting things — and that’s part of the problem that Vicor helps us solve — is that because it’s an intermittent resource, the customer doesn’t really care about that. What they care about is power, their asset, whatever it is, running reliably and consistently. Part of the problem is that we always have to keep energy storage somewhere between us and the asset. We can run the asset fine, but maybe we are sending too much power to the line and we need to divert some of it to the battery. Or the outside is flat, so the asset needs to run on battery power.

One of the things that we do is help clients get over it, overcome scope anxiety, if you will, how to have an intermittent resource that can keep something going for five years is, we can look at a website that we can extract for 20 years Or 30 years of historical data. We can configure a system between capacity, generation capacity, and energy storage capacity, that is, in the past 30 years, the state of charge of the battery will be below 40% three times in the past 30 years with this specific configuration. However, if we increase the battery storage capacity a little bit, then we can assure you based on historical data that your system will not fail.

Wave energy could play a positive role in running subsea data centers in the deep ocean

I think that’s a leap that people haven’t quite made yet. I think that’s one of the interesting things that everybody’s starting to understand now is that you can look at what’s going on and configure the system and design it right. The nice thing about our system is that it’s very scalable. So we can do that. And you can be sure that a certain suite will run for no matter how long they need to run, whether it’s months, quarters, or years.