How to Innovate for Data Centre Sustainability?

1st September 2023

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Managing Director, Derek McFarlane discusses the various cooling solutions we need on the road towards a greener, more sustainable future for data centres.



Data centres are the key to seamless communication, quick information exchange and the storage of large volumes of data, supporting everything from online shopping to more complex computing and artificial intelligence. In an interconnected world, data is central to our existence, driving essential services that demand speed, reliability, and security. The relentless surge in daily data creation and consumption highlights the urgency for data centre operators to strategically plan for the future.

With this escalating demand comes rising energy consumption. Data centre energy usage is at a high and shows no signs of slowing down. The industry’s relationship to power – and the enormous carbon footprint generated by running and cooling facilities, is becoming a priority. The industry is increasingly turning its attention towards more sustainable practices, renewable energy sources and innovative cooling mechanisms.

Combining solar, wind, hydro and other renewable sources not only reduces carbon emissions but can also help slow down the escalating energy demand of data centres. Innovation is key, such as energy-efficient hardware, intelligent load distribution and energy recapture to shape the way for optimised resource utilisation.


The environmental impact of conventional data centres

Conventional data centres carry a significant environmental burden – consuming around 3% of the energy generated worldwide. With most facilities still relying on non-renewable sources such as coal, natural gas and nuclear power, this contributes to substantial carbon emissions.

The other major environmental pressure is water usage: data centres need huge amounts of water for cooling purposes, with research estimating that a large facility requires anywhere between 1 million and 5 million gallons of water a day. This can potentially strain local water resources, particularly in regions facing water shortages. The impacts of climate change are evident around the world today. 


Types of sustainable power sources for data centres

As we navigate the challenges of the digital age, addressing the environmental impact of conventional data centres is a shared, and urgent, responsibility by all stakeholders in the data centre supply chain. Regarding water usage within data centres, the good news is that there are a growing number of innovative solutions. These include transitioning to a variety of renewable energy resources, optimising cooling mechanisms, implementing energy-efficient hardware and adopting circular economy principles for equipment lifecycle management.

The journey to a more sustainable industry is not just a technological challenge, but a moral obligation to look after the planet for current and future generations.

The sun’s energy can be utilised through solar panels, providing a consistent and clean power supply. Solar panels shine as a reliable option across a wide range of locations with photovoltaic arrays to capture sunlight and convert it into electricity. Such as Japan Renewable Energy Corporation’s (JRE)’s 100% onsite solar-powered data.

Hydroelectric power finds its strength in areas privileged with rivers and flowing water, giving a consistent source of energy, Data Center Light runs with 99.9% hydropower. The geothermal option is one that works well in regions with tectonic activity, where the Earth’s internal heat can be tapped into for power generation.

Whereas wind power thrives on regions with a consistent breeze. Coastal data centres can take advantage of offshore wind farms, while onshore turbines are viable in open areas. An example of this is Apple’s data center in Denmark which uses wind turbines for energy, and the Hamina Google Data Center in Finland which uses a combination of wind and hydroelectric sources.


Future prospects

As we face the challenges of escalating energy demands and the urgent need to lower our carbon footprint, some data centres have risen to the occasion by embracing renewable energy sources. But there is work still to be done.

The journey to sustainability is a necessity. And an opportunity for innovative solutions to meet corporate responsibilities. By adopting solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal power, data centres can not only reduce their impact on the environment but can also demonstrate a commitment to a better generation.

The biggest success of data centres powered by renewable energy stands as a testament to what can be achieved when technology and conscious decision-making combine. The transition to green energy should be championed by all – driving change not just in the data centre industry but across all sectors, paving the way for a greener future tomorrow.


Data Centre Trends 2023

From power shortages and district heating to new risk models and communication approaches – have you explored Soben’s research on the trends that are shaping the global data centre market? Discover the Top Ten Trends that are shaping the global Data Centres market in 2023, and beyond.

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Derek McFarlane

Managing Director – Consultancy, UK & Europe

[email protected]