How can the entire data centre industry achieve a green approach?

The energy consumed by today’s data centres – which act as repositories for billions of gigabytes of information – is continuing to grow as the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G networks and increasing data exchanges push the energy demands of these facilities. In fact, data centres account for about 3 per cent of global energy consumption.

However, as fossil fuels continue to be used, pollution, climate change and land degradation are just some of the effects. Clearly this is not a viable approach in the long term, and as such alternatives need to be explored immediately.

>See also: The business case for greening data centres

A green approach, whereby facilities are powered by renewables, is feasible. Evidence for this can be seen by looking at Apple who has recently announced that it plans to build a second renewables powered data centre in Denmark.

The environmental diligence demonstrated by Apple, and other hyperscalers such as Google, is an important development for the tech world and should encourage other data centres to follow in their footsteps.

As more organisations move to renewables they are showing that it is cost-effective to be green. However, for real change to occur, smaller data centres must also be proactive, and begin to stray from their dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels. But with limited resources and stretched budgets, how can these data centre providers achieve the same goal?

Understandably, smaller providers may struggle to match Apple’s 100% commitment to renewable energy, not least because of a lack of available resources.

Hyperscalers often build their facilities specifically with energy efficiency in mind and therefore choose locations with maximum access to renewable energy. By way of example, the Nordic countries have seen a rise in popularity among the data centre community due to the vast reserves of water and heat energy that can be re-used.

>See also: The small data centres’ renewable journey

In the case of Google, this company often has long standing contracts with renewable energy providers helping to lower costs and keeping a sustained flow of energy to power the data centre.

However, the same end is not as easy for many smaller data centre facilities who are often based closer to their customers, often in dense Tier-1 cities, isolated from alternative energy sources, creating a heavier reliance on fossil fuels. Additionally, renewable sources may not be completely attainable for all data centres due to a lack direct contact with renewable suppliers.

Yet, if renewable energy as a primary source of power is beyond reach, renewable energy can be used as a secondary source to help power operations. This would leave fossil fuel energy as a primary source of energy, alongside renewable energy that can power smaller data centres, therefore limiting the overall fossil fuel production.

Additionally, governments could provide support for those looking to achieve a green approach by facilitating the adoption of renewable energy, bringing together energy suppliers with data centre operators and end user companies. While many hyperscalers have developed long-standing relationships with energy suppliers, governments can help bridge this gap for mid-tier and smaller organisations.

>See also: How to improve data centre energy sustainability?

Combining this with fiscal incentives would help guarantee that organisations incorporate some form of renewable energy and in the process push for long-term contracts with energy suppliers. This will help create a portfolio of partners and help lead to more progressive goals towards a sustainable and green data centre industry.

Another option is for organisations to consider starting their renewable energy company. While this might sound ambitious, there have already been examples of companies doing this in Belgium, which is not known for its renewable energy resources.

Or take an example from Google, who buys a guaranteed 10+ years of renewable energy, enabling new or existing operators to invest in renewable energy infrastructure.

Apple (along with other hyperscalers) has shown a glimpse of what can be done to meet renewable demands and has established itself as one of the industry frontrunners in creating a more sustainable approach to how their data centre facilities operate.

>See also: Top 6 data trends for the enterprise in 2017

Adopting 100% renewable energy can be difficult. Yet, the proactivity we’re seeing from these hyperscalers demonstrates that renewables can effectively power the data centre, and should encourage the rest of the industry to do the same.

Small implementations such as more collaborative efforts and seeing renewable energy initially as a secondary source of power, can be the progressive steps that lead to bigger change in the long run.


Sourced by Roel Castelein, EMEA Marketing Chair for The Green Grid

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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