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Turning data centre innovation to the carbon challenge

We explore the complexities data centres face in reaching net zero, and the steps that some organisations are taking to accelerate progress.

As the world’s reliance on digital technologies continues to grow, so does the global data centre market, which is forecast to reach $288.3 billion by 2027. It’s an industry that consumes vast amounts of energy. So much so, that the IEA estimates it used 1% of the world’s electricity in 2020.  

Given the scale of energy consumption, it’s clear that effective energy management is a key priority. It’s critical that you have guaranteed, uninterrupted power. But you also have clear decarbonisation and cost goals to meet too.  

This energy-hungry industry must find sustainable energy solutions. Without them, you’ll be vulnerable to price volatility and grid constraints— and you will not achieve its net zero goals. Can the industry secure its future by turning its innovation expertise to the carbon challenge? Here’s a round-up of how some data centres are responding to the task: 

 

Energy security vs. decarbonisation 

The Financial Times reported that two of the world’s biggest data centre operators – Equinix and Digital Realty Trust – are stockpiling diesel that can be used to fuel their back-up generators for up to one week, in an effort to ensure continuous operation at their European sites. Similar steps are being taken by one of France’s biggest cloud service providers, OVHcloud, which is lining up diesel generators in preparation for potential power cuts later in the year. 

What’s more, Italy’s second-largest bank UniCredit have spent this summer testing the resilience of their two core data centres, ensuring they have uninterrupted power supply from two independent power stations. While in the UK, data centre operators have asked the government for short-term priority energy usage this winter, in the event that rising energy costs and energy security concerns lead to power restrictions. 

The consequences of power outages for data centres are clear. And given the wider geopolitical context, these organisations’ focus on energy security is understandable. But it’s important that all energy-intensive organisations map out new energy strategies that help them to build resilience against energy security issues and volatile grid energy prices – without hindering all progress against net zero goals. It’s clear that finding the balance between energy security and decarbonisation continues to be a challenge for the world’s data centre providers. 

 

Future data centre energy innovations 

Cooling is one of the most energy intensive aspects of running a data centre. One start-up – Subsea Cloud – is looking to tackle this, by developing a pod which enables data centres to be submerged underwater, allowing it to use the ocean to provide cooling instead. This could reduce energy consumption by up to 40%. 

Huge amounts of heat are also generated by data centres – and there’s opportunity here too. For example, in the Netherlands, Switch Datacenters is harnessing waste heat that’s generated from their servers, and using it to warm local homes and businesses – turning waste into opportunity. Microsoft intends to utilise waste heat in a similar way in their new data centre in Finland.

 

Looking to the future

With data storage and processing only set to increase, how can data centres most effectively balance the demands of energy cost vs. energy security vs. decarbonisation? And what digital tools exist that could support in the journey to net zero? 

Our new briefing paper explores these challenges, and outlines the practical steps your organisation can take right now to ensure you’re well positioned to compete over the long term. 

 

Given the scale of energy consumption, it’s clear that effective energy management is a key priority

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