A Review: Policy Development on Energy Efficiency of Data Centres

The energy consumption of data centers has emerged as a critical concern for sustainable development. The intersection of policy development and real-world challenges in optimizing energy efficiency within data centers necessitates a comprehensive approach. In this article, we explore a few insights from Richard Kenny on a report on policy development on energy efficiency of data centers commissioned by the IEA’s Energy Efficient End-Use Equipment Technology Collaboration Programme Electronic Devices & Networks Annex.

The review examines various legislations and incentives surrounding the data center sector, raising concerns about the feasibility of current policies in achieving substantial energy efficiency gains. While optimistic forecasts predict a modest 20 TWh rise in energy usage by 2030, against a backdrop of soaring demand for data services, the disparity between policy ambitions and real-world implementation looms large.

A comprehensive literature review targeted countries at the forefront of new data center development. This search unearthed a variety of energy efficiency policies, detailed in the main report and further elaborated in accompanying appendices. These policies have been classified as:

Key Policy Measures:

The report delineates five pivotal energy efficiency measures that were modeled to assess their potential efficacy:

1. Moving data flow/processing from traditional data centers to the cloud 

2. Reducing energy use by data center infrastructure 

3. Increasing high activity utilisation 

4. Increasing server efficiency 

5. Increasing equipment shutdown when in low utilisation 

6. The combination of all five measures with the most stringent PUE. 

Amidst the pursuit of energy efficiency, several challenges loom large like Technical Complexity; Rapid Pace of Change; Lack of Suitable Metrics.

Richard critically examines the underlying assumptions and programs driving energy efficiency initiatives:

  • Cloud Migration: While touted as a remedy for energy efficiency, cloud migration overlooks associated costs, security, and utilization challenges.
  • PUE Reductions: While PUE remains a widely used metric, its efficacy in measuring actual energy efficiency is increasingly questioned.
  • Utilization Enhancement: Recommendations to increase virtualization overlook its widespread adoption in traditional data centers.
  • Server Efficiency: Assumptions regarding next-generation server efficiency lack nuanced consideration of configuration and performance metrics.
  • Equipment Shutdown: The feasibility of increasing equipment shutdown during low utilization periods is questioned, particularly in cloud environments.

The report underscores the potential for substantial energy savings through server energy efficiency enhancements. However, the lack of corresponding legislation to mandate and incentivize such improvements remains a glaring gap. 

Moreover, the complexity of data center operations necessitates a concerted effort to bridge the knowledge gap between suppliers and consumers, emphasizing the need for comprehensive procurement guidelines and certification schemes.

Several jurisdictions have initiated legislative measures to address energy efficiency concerns in data centers, including China, Germany, France, Japan, the UK, and the EU. While these initiatives primarily focus on PUE reductions, there is a growing recognition of the need to incorporate metrics related to IT energy efficiency.

In conclusion, while the pursuit of energy efficiency in data centers is imperative, it requires a multifaceted approach encompassing policy reform, technological innovation, and collaborative efforts across stakeholders to navigate the complex landscape and realize substantial energy savings in the digital age.

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