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Data centre operators can become leaders in sustainable operations

  • 2 months ago (2021-09-07)
  • Junior Isles
Renewables 688
Arturo Di Fillipi

By Arturo Di Fillipi, Global Offering Manager, Vertiv

Hitachi Energy
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Hitachi Energy

According to JLL, demand for Europe’s main data centre markets is set to rise by a third in 2021.

Following the transition to remote working and our accelerated reliance on digital services, this increase in demand should come as no surprise. From retail business to healthcare facilities, from financial to educational institutions – organisations are upscaling their IT operations at pace.

“Data is the new oil”, is no longer a metaphor. It’s now true.

What’s more, with the pandemic acting as a catalyst for the adoption of data centres to meet the growing demand for the likes of e-commerce and home-based working, the sector is on course for exponential growth. The International Energy Authority (IEA) is anticipating global internet traffic to double to 4.2 zettabytes per year (4.2 trillion gigabytes) by 2022.

With the data centre industry accounting for approximately 1% of global energy consumption, companies are finding their digital infrastructure increasingly under scrutiny. Their customers, and the public, are expecting to see them take greater environmental responsibility and drive sustainable action.

So, within the context of accelerating data centre demand and energy consumption, what steps can providers take to meaningfully decarbonise?

Using renewables

To clean up their carbon footprint and make data centres climate neutral by 2030 as part of the European Green Deal , data centre providers must continue their transition to renewable energy. Key players within the data centre market, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google have already taken significant strides in this direction.

In 2019, for example, Google announced that it had achieved the sourcing of 100 percent renewable energy for all its data centres. It now claims every work load run on Google Cloud has “ zero net carbon emissions ”. Other tech giants are committing to clean power too. Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 and Amazon has pledged to be net-zero carbon by 2040.

Yet, while these achievements are impressive, the IEA’s Data Centre and Data Transmission Network Report urge caution. It notes that matching 100 percent of annual demand with renewable energy certificates (REC) does not guarantee data centres are 100 percent powered by renewable sources at all times. Furthermore, the report indicates that data centre operators investing in renewable energy and working with electricity utilities, regulators and project developers, should seek to identify projects that maximise benefits for the local grid.

To avoid greenwashing, data centre providers must back a portfolio of renewable energy products. One reliable route to claiming 100 percent renewable energy use is by establishing direct Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with a nearby renewable power operator.

As an example, we are witnessing several partnerships come to fruition between data centre operators and power companies. For instance, SSE Renewables and Irish-owned Echelon are develop ing a joint 520 MW offshore wind farm to help meet the power needs of Echelon’s data centres. Similarly, Amazon has set out a deal with wind farms in Ireland. In fact, the company recently announced a new 115 MW wind farm project in Ardderroo, Galway, which will begin operating in 2022 and will support AWS data centres in the country.

While these agreements will boost the goal of developing more sustainable data centres, they also deliver wider benefits towards decarbonisation goals. Amazon’s wind farm projects are anticipated to reduce carbon emissions by 366 000 tonnes of CO2 each year, adding 290 MW of renewable energy to the Irish grid. This will produce enough renewable energy to power 185 000 Irish homes, per annum.

Power trip!

To address the challenge further there are steps that data centre managers can take now, primarily through their implementation of advanced uninterruptible power systems (UPS) technology.

More than just a battery back-up, latest UPSs with grid support features can be pivotal for managing energy demands in a sustainable way. Using the UPS with dynamic grid support and battery storages during times of grid instability can ultimately contribute to decarbonisation and transition to green energy, securing the supply of electricity by addressing the unbalance related to renewable power generation.

Leading from the front

In today’s world, data centres are at the epicentre of the connectivity matrix and operators must lead from the front, implementing sustainable practices to boost the industry’s green credentials.

Yet, the path to decarbonising is non-linear. In order to take meaningful steps to reduce the sector’s environmental footprint and embrace sustainability, they must adopt a variety of green practices to ensure data centre impact on the environment is minimised, while data consumption continues to flow unabated.

Get this right and rather than just being consumers of power, data centres can be leveraged to support the transition to a renewable energy grid. After all, it’s time to change the narrative around data centres.