Sustainable Data Centres
From data centre cooling to reducing data centre power consumption, here’s everything you need to know about sustainable data centre services.
Data centre companies need access to the latest technology and green energy innovations in order to protect their operations, to ensure all of their data centre services remain online.
The number of data centres in the UK, Europe and around the world is increasing significantly as the exponential growth in demand for online services continues to define the modern era. However, as highlighted by the Uptime Institute:
"After a long period of relative stability, typical server power consumption has risen steeply since the middle of the 2010s — and is expected to keep rising."
Considering that data centres are already estimated to be responsible for 1%-1.8% of global energy usage, this may set off alarm bells for sustainability professionals working to optimise and reduce power consumption across their own data centres.
One of the biggest challenges they face is the rapid increase in AI tools and technology, which may become more demanding than Bitcoin in the near future. With conservative estimates, AI is expected to become one of the most widely used technologies in the coming years and an even greater demand for power will be placed on data centres.
"It's a huge challenge for procurement and sustainability professionals".
Said Chris Maclean, CEO of True.
"Data Centres require careful management and the repercussions of power outages or spiralling costs can be catastrophic, not just for the data centre operator, but also for all of the businesses and organisations that rely on servers to run their online services."
Google, one of the largest operators of data centres in the world, works hard to reduce its energy consumption and has committed to running its data centres on 100% renewable energy by 2030.
This highlights that, despite the challenges relating to uptime maintenance and staying online 24/7, 365, it is possible to run a sustainable data centre.
This True guide covers the trends and topics regarding sustainability in data centres, highlighting the best examples of data centres that operate with high sustainability rates, such as Google. It addresses the urgent need for data centre operators, businesses, and policymakers to recognise the environmental challenges posed by data centres and to explore sustainable practices that can mitigate their impact.
As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the quest for sustainable data centre solutions is no longer an option but a necessity. So, whether you’re a data centre manager, data centre engineer or data centre technician - whether you work in a data centre in London or a data centre in Scandinavia, this guide will help you to future-proof your data centre and secure your sustainable future.
Data Centre Sustainability Guide
The primary objectives of this guide are:
To assess the environmental impact of data centres, including energy consumption, water usage, and e-waste generation.
To explore sustainable practices, technologies, and initiatives that can be implemented in data centres.
To provide insights into the regulatory landscape surrounding data centre sustainability.
To clearly outline the multifaceted benefits of adopting sustainable practices in data centres.
To identify and address the challenges and barriers faced by data centre operators in their journey toward sustainability.
To offer best practices, strategies, and future trends that can guide data centre sustainability efforts.
To showcase real-world case studies that exemplify successful sustainable data centre projects.
To deliver practical recommendations for data centre operators, businesses, and policymakers to promote sustainability in data centres.
By exploring the relationship between data centre operations and the environment, we hope you can work to develop more green data centres and catalyse a shift toward more sustainable practices that include data centre design that paves the way for a greener and more responsible digital future.
Environmental Impact of Data Centres
The rapid growth and widespread expansion of data centres have given rise to a range of environmental concerns that demand attention. This section delves into the environmental impact of data centre companies, shedding light on the key issues surrounding energy consumption, water usage, and electronic waste generation.
Data centres are notorious energy hogs, primarily due to the continuous operation of servers and cooling systems required to maintain optimal temperatures. The energy intensity of data centres is often measured in power usage effectiveness (PUE), a metric that compares the total facility energy usage to that of the IT equipment. Lower PUE values indicate greater energy efficiency.
As data centres strive to keep pace with the ever-increasing demand for computing power, their energy consumption has soared. This has significant consequences for both the environment and operational costs. The carbon footprint of data centres, driven by their energy consumption, has become a focal point in discussions on sustainability. Data centre infrastructure must change, and here’s how.
Water is another critical resource closely tied to data centre operations. Cooling systems, which regulate the temperature of servers and prevent overheating, account for a substantial portion of a data centre's water usage. In regions where water is scarce, data centre water consumption can strain local resources and contribute to water stress.
Efforts to reduce water usage and increase efficiency in data centre cooling have gained traction in recent years. Innovations in cooling technologies, such as the use of evaporative cooling and advanced heat exchangers, have the potential to reduce the water footprint of data centres. Sustainable water management practices are becoming increasingly important as data centres expand.
Electronic Waste (E-Waste)
The rapid pace of technological advancement in the data centre industry results in the frequent replacement and upgrading of hardware components. This, in turn, leads to the generation of electronic waste, commonly referred to as e-waste. E-waste poses environmental challenges due to the presence of hazardous materials and the improper disposal and recycling of electronic components.
Data centres are not only generators of e-waste but also consumers of electronic equipment. Strategies for reducing e-waste in data centres include responsible disposal and recycling practices, as well as the promotion of circular economy principles, such as refurbishing and reusing equipment whenever possible.
Understanding the environmental impact of data centres is a crucial step in the journey toward sustainability. As data centres continue to expand and evolve, it is imperative to address these environmental challenges through the adoption of sustainable practices, technologies, and regulatory measures. In the subsequent sections of this guide, we will explore the various avenues available for mitigating the environmental impact of data centres and promoting a more sustainable future for the industry.
Sustainable Practices in Data Centres
As the environmental impact of data centres becomes increasingly evident, there is growing urgency to adopt sustainable practices that mitigate their carbon footprint. In this section, we explore various sustainability initiatives and technologies that data centres can implement to minimise their environmental impact.
Renewable Energy Adoption
One of the most effective ways for data centres to reduce their carbon emissions is through the adoption of renewable energy sources. Transitioning to clean energy, such as solar, wind, and hydropower, can significantly decrease the carbon footprint of data centre operations. Many leading tech companies have already committed to powering their data centres with 100% renewable energy.
Renewable energy adoption not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also helps data centres achieve energy independence and hedge against fluctuating energy prices. Power purchase agreements (PPAs) and on-site renewable energy installations are common strategies for integrating renewables into data centre power supplies.
Energy-efficient hardware plays a crucial role in reducing energy consumption in data centres. This includes servers, storage devices, networking equipment, and cooling systems. Manufacturers are continually developing more energy-efficient hardware solutions, including processors designed for lower power consumption and advanced cooling technologies.
Data centre operators can optimise energy efficiency by regularly upgrading hardware, consolidating servers through virtualisation, and implementing intelligent power management systems. Energy-efficient hardware not only reduces operating costs but also aligns with sustainability goals.
Cooling systems represent a significant portion of a data centre's energy consumption. Sustainable cooling solutions aim to minimise this energy use while maintaining optimal operating temperatures.
Techniques such as hot/cold aisle containment, free cooling, and liquid cooling have gained traction for their ability to reduce cooling-related energy consumption.
Innovations like liquid cooling, which uses non-conductive coolants to dissipate heat more efficiently, are becoming increasingly popular. These solutions not only improve energy efficiency but also contribute to water conservation by reducing the demand for traditional cooling towers.
Energy Storage and Backup Systems
Energy storage systems, including batteries and flywheels, can help data centres optimise their energy usage and reduce reliance on the grid during peak demand periods. These systems store excess energy generated during off-peak hours and release it during high-demand times, contributing to grid stability and efficiency.
Furthermore, backup power systems, such as fuel cells and microgrids, can enhance data centre resilience while minimising emissions. Microgrids enable data centres to generate their own power during grid outages, ensuring uninterrupted operations.
Sustainable Data Centre Design
The design and layout of data centres play a pivotal role in sustainability. Data centres can be designed with energy-efficient building materials, optimal airflow management, and modular construction techniques that allow for scalability and efficient space utilisation.
Moreover, data centre architects can take advantage of natural cooling and renewable energy integration by choosing environmentally friendly locations and orientations. Sustainable data centre design principles aim to minimise the ecological footprint of the facility from its inception.
From the precise location of the site to the laying of the foundations, sustainable decisions can be made at every level. Though they may be incremental on an individual level, collectively they will deliver major savings on energy and reductions in carbon emissions.
Incorporating these sustainable practices and technologies into data centre operations can lead to significant reductions in energy consumption and environmental impact.
In the pursuit of sustainability, data centres operate within a regulatory framework that seeks to address environmental concerns and set standards for responsible operation. This section examines the regulatory landscape surrounding data centre sustainability, shedding light on existing regulations and the potential impact of future policies.
Various countries and regions have introduced regulations and standards that touch upon data centre sustainability. These regulations encompass areas such as energy efficiency, emissions reduction, and resource management. Some notable examples include:
- Energy Efficiency Standards: Some jurisdictions require data centres to adhere to specific energy efficiency standards, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ENERGY STAR program and the European Union's Code of Conduct for Data Centres.
- Renewable Energy Goals: In regions with ambitious renewable energy targets, data centres may face pressure to procure a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources.
- E-Waste Regulations: Laws governing the disposal and recycling of electronic waste can impact data centre operations, especially in terms of responsible hardware disposal.
- Water Use Regulations: Areas with water scarcity concerns may impose restrictions on data centre water usage for cooling, prompting the adoption of water-efficient technologies.
In the United Kingdom, government regulations regarding data centres are instrumental in ensuring the responsible and secure operation of these critical facilities. These regulations are shaped and enforced by government bodies like the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), with a primary focus on safeguarding data, promoting sustainability, and fostering a competitive marketplace.
Environmental responsibility is a critical component of UK data centre regulations. The UK government has set ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions, which has led to stricter energy efficiency requirements for data centres. Data centres are encouraged to adopt eco-friendly practices, minimise energy consumption, and manage waste responsibly to align with sustainability goals.
Additionally, the UK's regulatory framework fosters fair competition. It encourages the growth of diverse data centre providers, preventing anti-competitive practices and ensuring that customers have a range of options to choose from.
As technology evolves and data centre infrastructure expands, the UK government's data centre regulations continue to adapt to emerging challenges. Staying compliant with these regulations is not just a legal obligation; it's a testament to the commitment to data security, environmental responsibility, and fair competition in the dynamic landscape of data management.
Demand Side Response (DSR)
A data centre operator plays a pivotal role in the emerging landscape of Demand Side Response (DSR) markets. DSR is an innovative approach that enables the dynamic adjustment of electricity consumption in response to grid conditions and market signals, with the primary aim of enhancing grid stability and efficiency. Data centre operators can actively participate in DSR programs by capitalising on their energy-intensive operations, which involve large-scale servers and cooling systems.
To begin with, data centres can engage in DSR by implementing robust energy management systems. These systems allow operators to monitor their electricity consumption in real-time, identifying periods of high demand and grid stress. By doing so, data centres can respond promptly to requests from grid operators or aggregators to reduce or shift their electricity consumption during peak periods, thereby relieving strain on the grid.
Furthermore, data centres can leverage their uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems to provide grid-balancing services. During times of excess electricity supply, a data centre can temporarily switch to its backup power source and feed surplus energy back into the grid, effectively acting as a distributed energy resource. This not only benefits the grid but can also generate revenue for the data centre operator.
In addition, data centre operators can explore energy storage solutions to optimise their DSR capabilities. By deploying battery storage systems, they can store excess energy during periods of low demand and discharge it when the grid requires additional power, effectively acting as a flexible energy asset.
By actively participating in DSR markets, data centre operators can contribute to a more resilient and sustainable energy ecosystem while potentially realising cost savings and revenue opportunities. This engagement underscores the evolving role of data centres beyond their traditional function and their growing significance in the realm of modern energy management.
Future Regulatory Developments
As the environmental impact of data centres gains more attention, it is likely that regulatory efforts will intensify. Anticipated developments include:
- Carbon Emissions Reporting: Regulations may require data centres to track and report their carbon emissions, fostering transparency and accountability.
- Carbon Pricing: Carbon pricing mechanisms, such as carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems, may be extended to data centres, incentivising emissions reductions.
- Renewable Energy Mandates: Some regions may mandate that data centres procure a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.
- Eco-Labelling: Governments and industry organisations may introduce eco-labelling programs that recognise and certify sustainable data centres. This will deliver wide-spread benefits for those that receive certification, including greater opportunities to win business and fill rack space.
- Circular Economy Initiatives: Data centres may face regulations promoting the responsible management of electronic waste and encouraging recycling and refurbishment.
Understanding the evolving regulatory landscape is essential for data centre operators, as compliance with sustainability regulations can have significant operational and financial implications. It is increasingly important for data centres to monitor and adapt to changing regulations, aligning their strategies with the broader goals of reducing their environmental impact.
The change is already happening in Europe and these changes are expected to have major implications in near and long term.
“The German government passed a draft of the Energy Efficiency Act in April, which is now being debated in parliament. Section four of the draft is dedicated in detail to new requirements for the energy efficiency of data centres.”
In the subsequent sections of this guide, we will explore the multifaceted benefits of sustainable data centres, the challenges and barriers faced by data centre operators, and best practices and strategies for achieving sustainability in this critical sector.
Benefits of Sustainable Data Centres
The adoption of sustainability initiatives in data centres yields a wide range of benefits, encompassing economic, environmental, and social dimensions. In this section, we delve into the multifaceted advantages of making data centres more sustainable.
Sustainability in data centres can lead to several economic advantages:
- Cost Savings: One of the most immediate benefits of energy-efficient practices is reduced operational costs. Lower energy consumption and improved cooling efficiency translate into lower electricity bills and operational expenses.
- Long-term Savings: Investments in renewable energy infrastructure and energy-efficient equipment may involve upfront costs but can result in substantial long-term savings over the lifecycle of a data centre.
- Enhanced Competitiveness: Sustainable data centres can gain a competitive edge in the market by attracting environmentally conscious customers, partners, and investors.
The environmental benefits of sustainable data centres are profound:
- Reduced Carbon Footprint: By transitioning to renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency, data centres can significantly reduce their carbon emissions, contributing to climate change mitigation.
- Water Conservation: Sustainable cooling technologies and practices help conserve water resources, particularly in regions facing water scarcity.
- E-Waste Reduction: Sustainable data centres embrace responsible hardware disposal and recycling, reducing the generation of electronic waste and minimising its environmental impact.
Sustainable data centres also offer social advantages:
- Community Engagement: Data centres that invest in renewable energy and environmentally friendly practices can strengthen community relations and enhance their reputation as responsible corporate citizens.
- Job Creation: The development and operation of renewable energy infrastructure and sustainable data centres can create job opportunities in local communities.
- Health Benefits: Reduced air pollution from lower energy consumption and cleaner energy sources can lead to improved air quality and public health in the surrounding areas.
Reputation and Brand Value
Sustainability initiatives in data centres enhance an organisation's reputation and brand value:
- Brand Differentiation: Companies that prioritise sustainability in their data centre operations distinguish themselves in a crowded market, attracting environmentally conscious customers.
- Investor Attraction: Sustainable practices can attract socially responsible investors and shareholders who value environmental stewardship.
- Compliance and Reporting: Meeting sustainability goals and complying with environmental regulations strengthens the credibility of data centre operators and fosters trust among stakeholders.
Sustainable data centre practices ensure compliance with existing and future environmental regulations, reducing the risk of fines and legal challenges.
Sustainability initiatives also mitigate various operational risks:
- Energy Price Volatility: By diversifying energy sources and improving efficiency, data centres can mitigate risks associated with fluctuating energy prices.
- Resource Scarcity: Sustainable data centres are better equipped to adapt to resource scarcity, including water shortages or regulatory changes.
In summary, the benefits of sustainable data centres extend far beyond environmental concerns. They encompass financial savings, enhanced competitiveness, improved brand reputation, and positive social impacts. As data centres continue to evolve and expand, integrating sustainability into their operations becomes not just a responsible choice but a strategic imperative.
In the following sections of this guide, we will address the challenges and barriers faced by data centre operators in their sustainability journey and offer best practices, strategies, and future trends to guide their efforts.
Data Centres Sustainability Challenges and Barriers
While the benefits of sustainability in data centres are evident, there are several challenges and barriers that data centre operators must navigate in their pursuit of more environmentally friendly practices. This section explores some common obstacles and how they can be addressed.
Challenge: Implementing sustainable technologies and practices often involves upfront costs that can strain budgets.
Solution: Data centre operators should conduct cost-benefit analyses to assess the long-term economic benefits of sustainability initiatives. Many sustainable practices, such as energy efficiency improvements, lead to substantial cost savings over time. Additionally, incentives, grants, and tax breaks may be available to offset initial investments in renewable energy and energy-efficient equipment.
Data Centre Technology Limitations
Challenge: Some data centres face technological constraints that limit their ability to adopt certain sustainable practices or technologies.
Solution: Working with sustainability experts, energy procurement specialists and innovative technology such as True, means that solutions that were once cost-prohibitive or impractical may become feasible over time. Data centre operators should stay informed about emerging technologies and explore pilot projects to assess their viability. Collaborating with technology vendors and industry partners can also provide insights into innovative solutions.
Resistance to Change
Challenge: Resistance to change, both within organisations and among stakeholders, can hinder the adoption of sustainable practices.
Solution: Effective change management strategies, including communication, training, and engagement with employees and stakeholders, are crucial. Demonstrating the financial and environmental benefits of sustainability initiatives can help garner support. Leadership commitment to sustainability is essential in overcoming resistance.
Data Centre Location
Challenge: The location of a data centre can impact its access to renewable energy sources and its vulnerability to environmental risks.
Solution: Data centre operators should carefully select their facility locations, giving priority to regions with access to renewable energy and favourable environmental conditions. They can also collaborate with local utilities to explore renewable energy procurement options.
Challenge: Complying with evolving environmental regulations can be complex and resource intensive.
Solution: Data centre operators should stay informed about regulatory changes and work proactively to ensure compliance. Engaging with industry associations and advocacy groups can provide valuable insights and support in navigating regulatory challenges.
Data Centre Scale
Challenge: Smaller data centres may face scalability challenges when implementing sustainable practices.
Solution: Modular and scalable approaches to sustainability can be tailored to the size and growth trajectory of the data centre. Collaboration with colocation providers or cloud service providers can offer access to sustainable infrastructure and resources.
Lack of Expertise
Challenge: The implementation of sustainability initiatives may require specialised knowledge and skills.
Solution: Data centre operators should invest in training and development for their staff or consider hiring sustainability experts and consultants. Collaborating with industry associations and research institutions can also provide access to expertise and best practices.
Addressing these challenges and barriers requires a proactive and strategic approach. Data centre operators must be willing to adapt to changing conditions, invest in sustainability, and engage with stakeholders to overcome obstacles on the path to more sustainable data centre operations.
In the subsequent sections of this guide, we will delve into best practices and strategies for achieving sustainability in data centres, drawing on successful case studies and emerging trends in the industry.
Best Practices and Strategies
Achieving sustainability in data centres requires a combination of best practices and strategic approaches. This section outlines a range of practical steps that data centre operators can take to reduce their environmental impact and enhance their sustainability efforts.
Energy Efficiency Improvements
Virtualisation: Implement server virtualisation to consolidate workloads and reduce the number of physical servers, leading to lower energy consumption.
Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM): Deploy DCIM software to monitor and manage data centre resources more efficiently, optimising power and cooling.
Energy-Efficient Hardware: Invest in energy-efficient servers, storage systems, and networking equipment to reduce power consumption.
Free Cooling: Utilise ambient air or cool outdoor air during favourable weather conditions to reduce reliance on mechanical cooling systems.
Renewable Energy Integration
Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs): Enter into PPAs with renewable energy providers to source a significant portion of the data centre's electricity from renewable sources.
On-Site Renewable Energy: Install solar panels, wind turbines, or other on-site renewable energy infrastructure to generate clean power.
Energy Storage: Implement energy storage systems, such as batteries, to store excess energy from renewable sources for use during peak demand.
Sustainable Cooling Solutions
Hot/Cold Aisle Containment: Implement hot and cold aisle containment to isolate hot and cold air streams, improving cooling efficiency.
Liquid Cooling: Explore liquid cooling solutions that can dissipate heat more efficiently than traditional air-based cooling.
Cooling Optimisation: Regularly maintain and fine-tune cooling systems to ensure they operate at peak efficiency.
Water Recycling: Implement water recycling systems to reuse cooling water and reduce water consumption.
Circular Economy Practices: Embrace the principles of the circular economy by refurbishing and reusing equipment whenever possible, reducing e-waste.
Waste Reduction: Minimise waste generation through responsible disposal and recycling practices.
Sustainable Data Centre Design
Green Building Standards: Design data centres in compliance with green building standards, incorporating energy-efficient building materials and eco-friendly construction practices.
Modular Design: Opt for modular data centre designs that allow for scalability and efficient space utilisation.
Energy Monitoring: Implement real-time energy monitoring systems to track and optimise energy usage.
Employee Engagement and Training
Training Programs: Provide training and awareness programs for data centre staff to encourage sustainability practices.
Employee Engagement: Involve employees in sustainability initiatives and gather their input for improvement.
Measurement and Reporting
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Establish KPIs for sustainability, such as PUE, carbon emissions, and water usage, to measure progress.
Transparency: Publish sustainability reports and communicate progress to stakeholders, promoting transparency.
Industry Partnerships: Collaborate with industry associations and peer organisations to share best practices and stay updated on industry trends.
Policy Engagement: Engage with policymakers and regulatory bodies to provide input on sustainability regulations and standards.
Disaster Recovery and Resilience
Microgrids: Implement microgrids and backup power systems to ensure data centre resilience during grid outages.
Data Backup and Recovery: Implement robust data backup and recovery strategies to safeguard critical data and minimise data loss.
Lifecycle Analysis: Conduct a comprehensive lifecycle assessment of data centre operations, from construction to decommissioning, to identify areas for improvement.
Implementing these best practices and strategies can help data centre operators make significant strides in sustainability, reducing their environmental impact and reaping the associated economic and social benefits.
Conclusion to Data Centre Sustainability
The journey toward sustainability in data centres is an imperative that reflects the convergence of environmental responsibility, economic viability, and technological innovation. This guide has explored the multifaceted landscape of data centre sustainability, from understanding the significance of data centres in our digital world to the challenges and barriers faced by operators in their pursuit of sustainability.
We have examined a multitude of strategies and best practices, ranging from energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy adoption to circular economy principles and employee engagement. These measures offer tangible pathways for data centre operators to reduce their environmental impact, enhance their competitiveness, and contribute positively to their communities and the planet.
As the digital transformation continues to shape our world, data centres will remain at the forefront of the digital revolution. It is imperative that they not only meet the increasing demand for computing power but also do so in an environmentally responsible manner. Sustainability is no longer a choice but a necessity—a commitment to building a greener, more resilient, and more sustainable digital infrastructure.
This guide has provided insights, recommendations, and a roadmap for achieving sustainability in data centres. It is our hope that data centre operators, businesses, policymakers, and stakeholders alike will find inspiration and guidance in these pages as they embark on their sustainability journeys.
The challenges are significant, but so are the rewards. Sustainable data centres not only reduce carbon emissions and conserve resources but also enhance financial stability, brand reputation, and stakeholder trust. They empower organisations to lead by example, demonstrating that a digital future can coexist harmoniously with a sustainable one.
In closing, we extend our appreciation to all those who have contributed to the advancement of sustainability in data centres and who continue to drive innovation and progress in this critical domain. Together, we can create a future where data centres are not only the backbone of the digital world but also beacons of sustainability, stewardship, and resilience.
Thank you for your commitment to a greener and more sustainable digital future.