What is the data centre industry doing to reduce its impact on the climate?

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While it’s true to say that data centres consume a lot of energy...

… what is also true is that the data centre industry is making huge strides towards decarbonisation, with some groundbreaking technologies being used to improve efficiencies in power generation, cooling and power usage.

Current figures report that the IT industry as a whole contributes between 2% and 6% of total global greenhouse emissions, which is on a par with the aviation industry.

Energy demand for data centres is roughly doubling every four years so it’s critical that data centre providers work hard to improve efficiencies at all levels.

We explored some of the ways that data centres are working towards decarbonisation.

Renewable energy contracts

Most data centres now source their power from renewable energy providers (solar, wind, hydro) with some boasting 100% renewable energy usage. At Datum our power agreement not only supplies us with energy from renewable sources, but also includes full carbon offsetting using forestry products from the Southern Cardamom REDD+ project.

Efficiencies behind the meter

How carefully energy is consumed is equally as important as where it is sourced from. There’s little point claiming to purchase energy from renewable sources if it’s then wasted during use. Some real efficiency in-roads can be made behind the meter. Metering power usage allows data centres to make data driven decisions about which areas of their facility are running inefficiently and shows that they’re serious about reducing their carbon footprint.

Efficient cooling

Cooling is one of the biggest areas of energy consumption in data centres and providers have been experimenting with innovative cooling techniques for some years now, with technologies such as liquid cooling, direct evaporative cooling and more efficient air conditioning systems being used to reduce cooling-related energy consumption.

Our Farnborough data centre facility uses energy efficient adiabatic cooling solutions – a type of free cooling which reduces heat through a change in air pressure caused by volume expansion.

Waste heat recycling

Data centres generate a significant amount of heat from their servers. Usually, this heat would be released into the atmosphere. However, data centre providers have started exploring ways to recycle this waste heat for other purposes, such as heating nearby buildings or providing hot water.

Battery storage

Battery storage can help data centres to store energy which can then be used as needed. Many data centres will use battery storage as a power back up system, but they can also help reduce energy consumption. Our Manchester facility deployed an energy enhancing 2MW battery storage system with voltage optimisation. This enables us to store electricity from the national grid at times of low demand and discharge it during the most beneficial periods, acting as a reserve during peak tariff times. The system offers integrated variable voltage optimisation which delivers a stabilised voltage, reducing unnecessary energy waste and optimising the incoming power supply.

Data centre locations

Building data centres in regions with a naturally cooler climate can help reduce the need for intensive, power-hungry cooling systems. In fact, Microsoft trialled underwater data centres which were sunk into the ocean so that the consistently cool subsurface seas could be utilised to cool the facility. Implementing more efficient data centre designs and layouts can also optimise energy usage while virtualisation technologies used to consolidate multiple servers into a single physical machine can result in better efficiencies and reduced energy consumption.

Interested in learning more?

As the world works hard on decarbonisation and a push towards more sustainable forms of energy supply to help combat climate change, it’s fair to say that the data centre industry is making great strides towards the end goal. The IT industry is perfectly placed to harness ground-breaking emerging technologies and is working hard to futureproof not only the world of tech, but the world around us.