David Watkins, Solutions Director at VIRTUS Data Centres, looks at what the technology industry and data centres should be doing to work towards a greener future and how they should be using renewables
Most experts accept that climate change is the biggest issue that society faces today. Global temperatures are rising, droughts and wildfires are starting to occur more regularly, rainfall patterns are shifting and the sea level is rising. It’s widely agreed that, to mitigate the damage being caused to the environment, we must reduce or prevent the emissions linked to human activities.
However, whilst there is a clear global focus on limiting emissions from the automotive, aviation and energy sectors, the technology world could be on track to generate more carbon emissions than any of these industries.
In society today, many of us are hungry for new technology and the advantages it brings to our businesses and to our daily lives. For example, in 2018, the “Despacito” music video set an Internet record being the first video to hit 5 billion views on YouTube – but this activity burnt as much energy as 40,000 US homes in a year. This kind of event is happening more and more frequently, and technology like smartphones, IoT adoption and big data have led to a massive growth in the need for data centres to store, manage and transfer all things digital, which also come with an environmental cost.
Data centres as a sector are likely to be consuming increasing amounts of energy if they are to keep up with the demands of society. Indeed, data centre power consumption amounts to roughly 416 terawatts, or around three per cent of all electricity generated on the planet. And, when it comes to integrating sustainability measures into their facilities, data centre operators have a difficult uphill battle.
So, despite all indicators pointing to data centres as being part of the problem, how can an energy-intensive sector become more environmentally friendly?
Smart design from the outset
Hyperscale data centre builds are currently making waves across the sector, and there are plenty of new construction activities across the board. This provides an opportunity to lead with energy-efficient and effective design from the start, adopting the latest in building technologies and sustainable sourcing of materials for these buildings.
By establishing proactive sustainability and efficiency measures at inception and leveraging the latest technology, data centre providers can ensure that their facilities are operated, and maintained more sustainably – ensuring a smarter, cleaner way of consuming energy and water.
The quest for renewables
For existing data centres, the big priority is in renewables. Some operators are already achieving 100% renewable energy in their buildings, resulting in lower emissions of carbon and other types of pollution.
This is an obvious step towards a cleaner future, and the benefits of renewables aren’t just environmental. Periods of electricity price surge or downtime can challenge providers to maintain service at the level that their users expect – but renewables are already demonstrating increased reliability than “dirtier” fossil fuels. Furthermore, the trend of and fixed pricing in renewable energy can help manage budget volatility – ultimately making management more achievable.
Technology developments power progress
The ability of IT equipment to operate at higher temperatures has increased in recent years which has significantly reduced the need for energy-intensive mechanical cooling in many climates. It’s through accelerated Research and Development programmes that more energy efficient technologies are quickly becoming available across the board. Perhaps ironically, given the technology sector’s contribution to global emissions, it’s by harnessing the latest technologies that can help data centre operators to reduce the environmental impact of their own facilities – and it’s down to these operators to be at the leading edge of the latest advancements.
Energy is a necessary evil, a central component for data centres across the globe to deliver effective services to customers. Yet, it is clear that the industry needs to take action and accelerate their search for new ways to minimise carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency.
If we are to mitigate society’s hunger for more technology, more collaboration is required, and the tech industry must harness its convening power collectively to drive accountable, effective, resource-efficient, end-to-end information communications technology ecosystems. Only then will we be able to comprehensively tackle this industry’s significant contribution to climate change.