Combating climate change – how the data industry is going green

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From raging bushfires to record temperatures and melting ice caps, the impacts of climate change are starting to feel very real and present. And, alongside power-hungry sectors like travel, tourism, and heavy industry, it is well reported that data centres make a significant environmental impact across the world. Indeed, in response to ever-increasing demand from end-users and content providers, the world’s data centres currently use more than 400 terawatts of energy every year – and a report by Anders Andrae, a senior researcher at Huawei, predicts that by 2025 data centres will account for 33 per cent of global electricity consumption.

It is no surprise then that the impetus to green the industry is significant. The EU Commission says that data centres should become climate neutral by 2030. Customers are expecting real change too – as businesses ask their providers for evidence of robust sustainability and carbon reduction measures.

Strategies to tackle the challenge

The most immediate way to address the problem is to increase the energy efficiency of data centre cooling systems. A report from The Insight Partners found that switching to liquid cooling can reap a 20 – 30 per cent reduction in power consumption, and some companies are injecting resources into new cooling technologies to power further savings.

While cooling is a necessary part of keeping data centres up and running, a recent Uptime report estimated that in the US alone nearly 12.5 billion kW hours would be wasted by over-cooling in data centres and improper airflow management. This points to a wider trend of energy waste in the sector, including zombie servers and a significant amount of retired equipment being sent to landfill rather than recycled. To tackle this, smart providers use highly efficient UPS (uninterruptable power supply) systems, which can hibernate parts of the system when they are not being used – minimising unnecessary power use.

 Virtus Data Centres use water cooling technology to efficiently cool its ten London locations and are continually looking to optimise how it functions. “We also make good use of the inclement British weather,” David Watkins, solutions director for Virtus Data Centres, explains. “If the temperature is below a certain level, the air in the data centre can be chilled without any mechanical cooling – just using the ambient conditions of the outside air. When you consider that all data centres operate 24 hours a day, using the natural cooler temperatures at night makes perfect sense – its sustainable and reduces costs.”

Renewable energy use

Using sustainable energy is something all industries should be focused on and data centres can help the wider adoption of renewable energy sources due to their stable power consumption – something which can be well-matched to eco-energy projects such as hydro.

“This move to renewable energy is already happening apace,” Watkins adds. “In late 2019, it was reported that, for the first time, renewables surpassed fossils fuels as the largest generation source of UK energy. At Virtus Data Centres, we have contributed to that figure. All the energy we consume is from 100 per cent renewable sources thanks to our partnership with Bryt Energy who generates power from wind, solar and tidal sources. Our LONDON2 facility in Hayes also incorporates a borehole dug at the inception of the site, using natural water sources for cooling, reducing demand on the mains water supply. Combined with the local climate, and efficient cooling technology this delivers low Water Usage Efficiency (WUE) for the site.”

A holistic approach

The most committed providers are focusing on delivering a cradle to grave green strategy. “Our sustainability ambitions are built into every aspect of our data centre construction and maintenance,” Watkins continues. “We work to BREEAM standards that cover everything from the green credentials of commercial buildings to adjunct areas, like how staff are getting to and from a campus and transport links optimising the use of public transport and installing charging points for electric vehicles.

“We believe that when it comes to green credentials every little counts. We are constantly looking at new ways and technologies that can make our business more sustainable, without compromising the demands of our customers. Along the way, we have seen that there are different shades of gree”. Take renewables for example – some are greener than others, despite all claiming to be sustainable – burning biomass is carbon neutral, but not as sustainable as using wind, solar and tidal power. So be wary of green credentials, please use them if possible and ensure you confirm the authenticity.”

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