New energy-efficient computer network at University of Bath runs on Direct Current (DC) electricity

First computer network to run on DC electricity launched

A new computer network running on DC electricity at a top university has been hailed as the first of its kind in the UK.

Researchers at the university say the supply network is unique and are exploring potential energy efficiency savings of localised DC networks compared to Alternating Current (AC) ones.

The network consists of 50 specially adapted computers in the university library which run from DC power converted from AC electric power from the grid.

By conducting an in-depth study of energy consumption within the new network the team hope to demonstrate that running a large network of devices on a direct current, is cheaper, more secure and more energy efficient..

Miles Redfern of the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, said: “The university library has provided us with an invaluable test-bed to establish if DC supplies can offer advantages for our current electricity demands.

"Our role now is to undertake an in-depth examination of the new system and produce quantitative data to demonstrate the energy and cost savings achievable.”

Bath students using the system have reported that the new computers are more compact and much quieter than previous systems, while initial tests have shown that it runs much faster and emits approximately half as much energy and heat than the previous AC powered system.

This means there is a "double energy" saving due to the lower energy emissions as well as avoiding the need to power the fans in machines or use air conditioning units.

The new network also offers greater security while DC power supply units have a simpler design with fewer parts that could fail and need replacing.

The project is being funded by the University's EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Account and RWE npower.

Redfern said that the university had already received interest in from a number of corporations running large-scale computer networks who he believes could benefit greatly from installing a similar system.

Chris Harris, Head of Retail Regulation at RWE npower said: “Projects such as this are vital to the success of finding ways to manage our electricity.

"Decarbonisation will increase electricity consumption by 2030 and possibly more than double it by 2050.

“The great work and expertise of Bath University is already starting to attract attention, this can only be good news for the project and the opportunities that local DC networks are able to offer.”

In commercial settings where electricity is billed at a higher rate in the day than during the night, companies running a large computer network could also benefit from significant cost savings by converting AC power at night, then running the network independent from the grid during the more expensive peak daytime hours.

The university hopes to extend the environmental credentials of the new network by installing mini wind-turbines or solar panels, both of which output a DC current and therefore don’t require inefficient conversion from AC to DC.

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