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Is It Possible To Sustain Energy-Guzzling Data Centres Whilst Trying To Save The Planet?

21st, August 2020

As the number of businesses that seek to become significant players in today’s data-driven world increases, the data centre remains one of the most important pieces of organisational infrastructure. However, as the ice caps continue to melt at a devastating rate, is it possible to sustain energy-guzzling data centres whilst trying to save the planet?

In 2016, it was reported that the world’s data centres used more than Britain’s total electricity consumption - 416.2 terawatt hours, significantly higher than the amount of power consumed in the UK. At three percent of the global electricity supply and accounting for about two percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, data centres have the same carbon footprint as the aviation industry.

Recent predictions state that the energy consumption of data centres is set to account for 3.2 percent of the total worldwide carbon emissions by 2025 and they could consume no less than a fifth of global electricity. By 2040, storing digital data is set to create 14 percent of the world’s emissions, around the same proportion as the US does today.

Current statistics show that only half of the world’s population is connected to the internet and therefore contributing to this data deluge. Despite this, IDC noted that the number of data centres worldwide has grown from 500,000 in 2012 to more than 8 million today. The amount of energy used by data centres continues to double every four years, meaning they have the fastest-growing carbon footprint of any area within the IT sector.

The launch of new technologies such as 5G, IoT driven devices, and Artificial Intelligence will only further compound the reliance issue. As more devices become connected more data will need to be processed than ever before.

So why are data centres so environmentally unfriendly?

For a data centre to remain functional, it either needs to have been built in a country with a naturally cold climate or to be housed in a temperature-controlled environment that must be maintained round the clock. According to studies, around 40 percent of the total energy that data centres consume goes to cooling IT equipment.

So, is the answer relocating all our data centres to the coldest parts of the World? Unfortunately, this is impractical as many companies now require data to be situated locally for latency, security, and legality purposes.

It’s not just the energy required to keep the data centre cool that is having an environmental impact but also some of the coolants used are often made of hazardous chemicals, along with corrosive battery components which need to be disposed of after end of life.

Redesigning the data centre.

We can’t live without data centres therefore; we need to look at the way in which they are designed to reduce the impact to our climate at the outset of the design process. By integrating energy efficient equipment sourced from a sustainable supply chain along with considering alternative sources of energy; solar, wind or hydro. Ensuring that the data centre infrastructure is built with scalability in mind is crucial, but overprovisioning should always be avoided.

Purchasing quality items such as batteries will enable longer life cycles and remove the need for regular disposal of environmentally harmful chemicals.
Integrating a monitoring system will ensure that equipment is being used efficiently, that energy is not being wasted and is not working harder than is required.

Contact the Workspace Technology Design Team to see how you can ensure that your data centre has minimal impact on the environment. It’s time to play your part is saving our planet!

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