After Apple, Microsoft will also build a “power plant”

From Windows to Surface computers, most of Microsoft's products give people a special feeling-direct and rough, just like science and engineering.

This characteristic is even reflected in the design of the Microsoft headquarters campus. Compared with the fantasy created by the "spaceship" shape of the Apple Park campus, Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Seattle, seems a bit ordinary, without particularly eye-catching buildings, just like The neighborhood around.

This may be the result of Microsoft's initiative to make office locations as inclusive as cities.

However, some time ago, this company, which has the characteristics of science and engineering, announced a rather fantastic plan-to build an underground power plant underground in its own park.

"Random" of science students, Microsoft wants to build an underground power plant

All of this starts with the renovation plan of Microsoft's headquarters.

In 1986, before the official listing, Microsoft settled its headquarters in Redmond, Seattle, USA. At first, the headquarters had only 4 office buildings. As the company gradually developed and expanded, the park was expanded and rebuilt step by step.

▲ Picture from: Microsoft

With the emergence of new office building expansion needs, Microsoft finally has the opportunity to realize the plan to build an underground power plant. This time they chose to cooperate with NBJJ, a well-known design company in Seattle, to flatten part of the headquarters building and put it on the original site. Build an underground power plant.

According to the plan, Microsoft will dig 875 geothermal wells in 2.5 acres of the headquarters, each with a depth of 550 feet (about 167.6 meters).

▲According to specific electricity demand, the number of geothermal wells after completion may change. Picture from: Microsoft

In the geothermal well, Microsoft will drop a 65-foot (about 17 meters) thermal energy storage tank. The main substance in the tank is water, which is the energy conversion medium, which is more conducive to storing heat.

This underground power plant actually uses the principle of constant temperature in a certain depth underground, and converts thermal energy into mechanical energy through heat pumps, coolers, generators and other facilities, and mechanical energy is finally converted into electrical energy.

There is a 220-mile-long transmission pipeline under the Microsoft headquarters to realize the transmission of energy.

▲Picture from: Microsoft

Interestingly, according to Microsoft's plan, under normal circumstances, people cannot see geothermal wells. They will be covered or covered by the trees in the park and melted into the environment.

This is exactly the same as the design idea of ​​the Microsoft headquarters. The extremely high green rate, the roads extending in all directions, and the openness of the university campus are not fantastic but comfortable.

Of course, if you really want to see this set of "machines in the woods," it is not entirely impossible. Microsoft said that it will set up a transparent porch near the geothermal power plant to let people understand how these devices work.

▲Picture from: Microsoft

Compared with traditional coal power generation, geothermal power generation has many advantages. For example, it uses a constant underground temperature to solve the heating/cooling needs. When the weather is cold in winter, the ground temperature is lower than the underground, and Microsoft can transfer the geothermal heat to the In the building, it acts as "heating" and vice versa.

This not only saves a lot of electricity bills, but also reduces the number of heating and air-conditioning equipment. Microsoft said that compared with the original system, the new geothermal system will reduce the energy consumption by 50%.

This geothermal power generation system saves money the longer it is used. After all, there is no need to pay electricity bills. You must know that in many parts of the United States, electricity bills are calculated stepwise. Large electricity users like Microsoft use only a lot more electricity. .

Moreover, the thermal energy conversion medium water used by geothermal power plants for power generation can also be recycled. It will not be discharged by the cooling device, but will be stored as thermal energy in the thermal energy tank.

In this way, Microsoft can reduce the water consumption of 8 million gallons a year, which is almost equivalent to the water consumption of 12 Olympic swimming pools.

More importantly, geothermal power generation does not need to consume ore resources like coal power generation. It is clean energy just like solar power. This is also one of the main reasons why Microsoft wants to build an underground power plant underground at its headquarters. To achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

▲ Picture from: Microsoft

However, the reconstruction of the park is a large-scale project after all. As the last building in the plan, the underground power plant is expected to open in 2023.

Compared with Apple and Tesla, what are the advantages of Microsoft's underground power plant?

The building of power plants seems to have become a new trend. Data centers, cloud services, storage systems, and technology companies have a high demand for computing power and demand for electricity. With the promise of Zhonghe, the construction of a power plant couldn't be more normal.

▲ Microsoft Data Center

Of course, the specific landing plans of each company are somewhat different, which also represents different technical directions.

As a new giant in the field of new energy, Tesla is better at developing batteries, and even entered the consumer market, selling energy storage batteries.

Tesla's household-grade energy storage battery products include the Powerwall, which was difficult to find during the epidemic, and the price was once increased. Enterprise-level battery products include Megapacks, with a maximum energy storage of 3 MKh, and even Apple has become a customer of Tesla and bought 87 Megapacks batteries from it.

▲Energy storage system composed of multiple Megapacks batteries. Picture from: Tesla

However, Apple and Tesla's power generation methods are the same. Both rely on solar energy. In 2015, Apple spent US$870 million to build a 1,300-acre ultra-large solar power plant in California, USA, to provide power for its own headquarters and many other facilities.

Speaking of this, you may also guess the disadvantages of solar power generation compared to geothermal power generation. Whether Apple or Tesla, solar power generation requires more sunlight. Microsoft can directly operate it underground in its headquarters, but Apple has to go outside the headquarters. power plant.

This also involves a large number of power transmission facilities and a large investment. Longer transmission distances often mean more power loss. Microsoft's underground power plant only has a much shorter transmission distance from ground to ground to ground.

Another disadvantage is the land area. Solar power generation requires much higher area size than geothermal power generation. This can be seen from the picture released by Apple. The two are not at the same level.

▲ Apple Solar Power Plant

National Geographic has released data that a geothermal power plant with a generating capacity of 1GWh would occupy approximately 404 square miles, a wind power plant with the same energy output would require approximately 1,335 square miles, and a solar farm would require approximately 2,340 square miles.

The stability of geothermal power generation will also be better. As mentioned above, the underground temperature is constant, and different conversion methods can even be used according to different ground temperatures.

Apple’s solar power plant can only be used during the day. At the beginning, it bought energy storage batteries from Tesla because the batteries can store the electricity converted from solar energy, so that the electricity converted during the day is not wasted, and it can also meet the power consumption of the headquarters at night. need.

▲ Megapacks' large power storage can adapt to different power needs

Of course, this is not to say that geothermal power generation has no shortcomings. Compared with solar power generation and wind power generation, the biggest shortcoming of geothermal power generation is that the efficiency is too low, and the power generation is not as good as the former two.

In addition, geothermal power generation needs to estimate the electricity demand in advance, and use this as the benchmark data to estimate the number of underground thermal energy wells to be constructed. Once high demand is encountered, the power supply is likely to be insufficient.

Therefore, when Microsoft built the underground power plant, it also stated that the headquarters does not rely entirely on it for power generation. Solar power generation is still an important supplementary part. Geothermal power generation is the main power generation facility under high concurrent demand, while solar power generation is the auxiliary facility.

This is just like the character attribute in the game. Whether geothermal power or solar power is not a hexagonal warrior, both have their own advantages, and they cooperate with each other to play their own strengths, but it is normal.

Geothermal power generation, heading towards 10%

Microsoft's underground power plant can only be regarded as a small-scale application of geothermal power generation. It just uses a relatively common underground constant temperature layer, and its temperature is not too high. Therefore, the amount of energy provided is also limited, which is more suitable for home or business. Construction use.

Once Microsoft completes the underground power plant in 2023, it will be an encouragement for other companies. In addition to public power grids, large technology companies can also choose more cost-effective construction solutions for long-term use.

The large-scale application of geothermal power generation actually makes full use of the geothermal resources in the intersecting regions of the continents of the earth. Compared with ordinary underground constant temperature layers, they have a higher temperature and are easier to use, but this also allows large-scale geothermal power generation. Restricted to specific regions.

▲ High-temperature hot springs are one of the typical geothermal resources

my country’s Tibet Yangbajing Town is an area with a large amount of geothermal resources, not only hot springs, fountains, and even hot water fields and other resources, which also made it the first area in my country to develop geothermal power generation. In 1977, the Yangbajing area The thermal power station has been completed and is still one of the main power plants in Tibet.

Compared with other regions, Tibet has more geothermal resources and less fossil resources such as coal. It has naturally become one of the main geographical regions for the development of geothermal power generation in my country.

▲ Yangbajing Geothermal Power Station.

The large-scale application of geothermal power generation is limited by geothermal resources, and the conversion rate and coverage rate of solar energy and wind energy are superior to it. Therefore, the development priority of solar energy and wind energy in many countries and regions is often higher than that of geothermal power generation. Now my country Solar power plants are already in place in many regions.

With the passage of time, the situation has gradually changed. Thermal energy application cases such as hot spring tourism have promoted the development of the tourism industry. Coupled with a change in concept, geothermal energy has once again entered the mainstream perspective as a clean energy source. Shanxi, once the “city of coal,” was built this year A high-temperature geothermal power generation test power station was established.

According to a report from Shanxi Daily, the first phase of the newly built geothermal power plant project covers an area of ​​50 acres, and the assembly capacity of the No. 1 test machine has reached 300 kW, which is a good start.

▲Shanxi Geothermal Power Plant. Picture from: China Urban Energy Weekly

At the same time, the exploration of new energy is not limited to the perspective of environmental protection. It can still promote industrial upgrading, and even become a new industry that nurtures water and soil. Geothermal can not only generate electricity, but also provide new applications for heating, hot spring tourism, recuperation and even aquaculture. Way.

At present, clean resources such as solar energy, wind energy, and geothermal energy have not fully replaced coal and other fossil resources for power generation. The reason is that in addition to technical limitations, there are also reasons for insufficient development. Geothermal power generation is a typical case, and there are still many undeveloped ones in the world. Geothermal resources.

Kenneth Gavin and William Craig, two long-term scholars at Delft University of Technology who have paid attention to geothermal energy, wrote that as a renewable energy source for electricity and heating, fully developed geothermal energy is expected to meet 10% of the world's electricity demand.

In the foreseeable future, the efficiency of geothermal power generation will only get closer and closer to this figure.

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