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How Data Centres are embracing sustainability

Gary Bartholomew our consultant managing the role
Published on 29 June 2022

Data Centres are among some of the most critical business infrastructures today. They form a central point of access for information amongst the most vital sectors and are essential to keeping the world connected. They also happen to be incredibly energy intensive with estimations showing that 1% of global electricity demand is from the industry alone.

Whilst these vast warehouses do not directly chug dangerous emissions into the atmosphere, they can be extremely harmful to the environment through indirect carbon emissions and the volume of energy used. But the industry is changing, and sustainability is a high priority for its future.

A pledge to reach climate neutrality by 2030 has been made by some of the biggest data centre operators in the ‘Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact’ in line with Europe’s Green Deal. The agreement sets out measurable targets to maximise energy efficiency and minimise waste. Here, we dive into just some of the ways that the Data Centre industry are honouring this pact and are going green.

Energy efficient cooling

The high demand for energy in Data Centres is primarily focused on keeping hardware cool and fully functional – accounting for up to 40% of their entire power. Energy efficient cooling systems are a design feature being developed and increasingly factored into new Data Centre projects.

Recently, Google implemented the use of Artificial Intelligence technology with neural networks trained to predict the future temperature of their facilities, modifying the conditions accordingly and minimising overuse of their powerful air conditioning units.

Another way of using energy efficient cooling can be as simple as building in cooler locations. Strategically, more Data Centre builds are capitalising on colder locations as a way to ‘free cool’ facilities. A stroke of innovation from Amazon last year saw them successfully trial a Data Centre build underwater, with the freezing seawater acting as a natural coolant.

Heat Recycling

On the other side of the coin, some data centres are putting their surplus heat to good use, redistributing to nearby homes and businesses in a district heat network. Major data centre organisations such as Amazon, Facebook and Apple redirect recycled heat to nearby residential homes, and Stockholm Data Parks is aiming to heat 10% of the city with its wasted heat by 2035. Whilst this an innovative solution to sustainability and heat waste concerns, it remains the exception to the rule in the Data Centre industry.

Green Computing

The recycling and repurposing of IT infrastructure is a particular ‘green computing’ focus for the data centre industry. A vast amount of carbon emissions are released when manufacturing new electricals, so by prolonging technology lifelines and reusing equipment, data centres can make a huge difference in the battle for carbon neutrality.

This circular thinking is being embraced by data centre giants including Microsoft, Google and Amazon, all of whom share membership to the Circular Electric Partnership which aims to reimagine the value of electrical products across the whole of the technology industry.

Renewable Energy Resources

How Data Centres are reaching their green energy goals varies widely – some have the capital and resources to generate the power offsite themselves, some are purchasing from existing renewable energy power plants, and others are utilising roof space with solar panels.

Operators including Google, Facebook and Microsoft have announced large scale renewable energy purchases from external sources, and many more of the industry’s biggest players are turning to independently generated solar energy to help power operations. Apple, Amazon and Target are amongst those with the highest installed capacity of solar panels.

Again, location can play a huge factor in maximising the sustainability of data centres, and where possible, large companies are positioning their new builds nearby to environmental power sources. Iceland, a country with a subpolar climate and whose electricity is generated entirely by renewable energy, is a destination increasingly being looked at. The Verne Global Facility in Keflavík is powered exclusively by hydroelectric and geothermal energy, the first of its kind and the world’s only carbon neutral data centre.

Get involved

Sustainability is a hot topic for Data Centres, and some of the industry’s biggest operators are paving the way towards climate neutrality. Leveraging the power of the Data Centre sector and getting them to commit to sustainable practices is not only a key driver in reaching climate targets but sets a precedent for the rest of the world. Do you want to help build a green future for the Data Centre industry? Check out our data centre jobs or get in touch with our committed data centre recruitment team to secure your next data centre job today.