There is an urgent need to increase the energy efficiency of data centres and reduce their environmental impact

Alessandro Bruschini, Infrastructure Manager from Aruba wrote on the Techerati website on the urgent need to improve the energy performance of data centres and offers three solutions.


Why going ‘green‘ is crucial to all data centre operations

Three solutions that offer a ‘green’ route towards energy efficiency improvements

It’s been said many times over, but data centres are crucial to modern day operations. Whether that’s an ecommerce site or a governmental initiative, their reliance on data centres to maintain business continuity is vital.

That means businesses are now increasingly more connected, with some operating 24/7, across all regions in the world, which in turn puts more pressures and a drain on energy resources and compute capacities.

With climate change being such a hot topic, operators are now quickly realising that there is an urgent need to increase the energy efficiency of data centres and reduce their environmental impact.

However, a balance must be maintained between complexity of implementation, costs, and overall energy efficiency, whilst delivering the fastest ROI. Indeed, there are many routes to greater efficiency, reducing power, and “going green” in the data centre, however, some suggested solutions are more complex/costly to implement or difficult to achieve than others.

Here I will outline three solutions that offer a ‘green’ route towards energy efficiency improvements.

Geothermal systems

Cooling takes up a large proportion of a data centre‘s power requirements. In fact, it is the primary source of energy consumption in most conventional data centres, with up to 30% of electricity usage going towards sustaining and operating a server below 26 degrees Celsius.

One way to reduce energy consumption quickly and efficiently is to replace traditional cooling solutions with geothermal systems that make use of the cold water found underground, in those area that allow you to have it in the amount you need.

Rack cabinets housing the servers can also be equipped with customised cold air containment systems to guarantee maximum energy efficiency and a comfortable working environment. As an example, this is what is currently used to power the entire air-conditioning system for the data rooms across Aruba’s Global Cloud Data Centre campus, making the system extremely energy and cost-efficient.

Photovoltaic energy

Installing solar power panels roofs and walls to directly convert light into electricity can quickly help fulfill the consumption requirements of a data center in a ‘green‘ efficient manner. If there is sufficient budget and a wide enough area on which to install these panels, photovoltaic energy can be a straight route to improve the energy effiency of a data centre.

For example, we’ve recently enhanced the on-site energy production capacity of our largest data centre campus in Italy, the Global Cloud Data Centre, by planning to install solar panels on top of our two new modules, DC-B and DC-C, as well as on the roof of on our DC-A building. These will be covered with new generation photovoltaic systems both on the walls and on the roofs, providing self-produced clean green energy in the future, reducing overall carbon footprint and delivering the necessary power output to complement energy usage within the data centre,

Hydroelectric power

Hydroelectric plants can be used to harness the power of flowing water to generate energy in a sustainable way. It works by making use of nearby natural water resources such as rivers, that then run through a series of turbines that spin to generate electricity.

This is a clean fuel source, fuelled by water. It does not pollute the air and thereby leads to a reduction in carbon emissions. It is trickier to implement and manage, but in the long-run it can prove to be a very ‘green‘ efficent way to produce energy.

We’ve recently strengthened our renewable energy production capacity with the acquisition of Idroelettrica Veneta S.p.A.. This includes four new hydroelectric plants, in addition to the one already present within Aruba’s Global Cloud Data Center in Ponte San Pietro (BG). Thanks to further 6MW of power provided by this acquisition – together with the already produced power by renewables – Aruba covers the current energy needs of his entire network of proprietary Data Centers.

This will allow us to deliver services to millions of customers with no impact on the environment and re-feed excess energy production into the grid, helping to reduce the environmental impact of other users.

Fortunately, data centre operators are coming to this realisation of a greener operations future, and are taking the necessary steps to make their facilities more environmentally friendly. In fact, there are many wide industry propositions and initiatives dedicated towards tackling this.

For example, a hot topic at the moment is the coming together of all companies, firms and associations as one to discuss a unified view on standards and regulations. The EU Commission recently put pressure on data centre providers to take action to reduce their carbon footprints. In its 2020 report – ‘Shaping Europe’s digital future‘ – the EC says that the industry “can and should become climate neutral by 2030,” highlighting the need to “become more energy-efficient, reuse waste energy, and use more renewable energy sources.”

More recently twenty five data centre, cloud provider companies and 17 associations have signed a pledge to commit to making Europe’s data centres climate neutral by 2030, in a significant effort to ensure long-term sustainability in the industry. The initiative is called the Climate Neutral Data Centre pact and is entirely self-regulated by its signatories.

Without a doubt, the growth of data, cloud computing and reliance on 24/7 operations means that reliance on data centre operations running smoothly will only increase, along with the energy required to power them. However, the industry is steering in the right direction and the pieces are there to ensure a greener future for all data centre operations.

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4 thoughts on “There is an urgent need to increase the energy efficiency of data centres and reduce their environmental impact

  1. Given what a very large proportion of such emissions now emanate from China, I wonder if this article is being translated into Mandarin?

      1. China has pledged to bring its’ total greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by 2030, and many industrial sectors are expected to plateau or decline as early as 2025. However, on present trends ,carbon dioxide emissions from the internet sector could continue climbing to 310 million tonnes a year by 2035,

        Last month, a study by the Rhodium Group think-tank revealed that China’s total 2019 GHGs exceeded those from the whole of the OECD for the first time, with the country’s per capita emissions also now close to those of western nations. China’s CO2 emissions rose 9% in the first quarter of 2021 compared with pre-pandemic levels

        However, the Chinese state has announced some initial steps , creating an escalating crackdown on the activity of mining bitcoins It is looking to the sea to help cut the cost of cooling data centres housing powerful computers and servers, and also to reduce consumption of traditional energy sources in a sector known for its high electricity needs.

        This followed the announcement that one of the world’s largest holders of bitcoins, Testa, will no longer accept the cryptocurrency for purchases of its vehicles, ostensibly because of the emissions impact of mining in China. 75% of the emissions from this activity now come from China

        The southern island province of Hainan has commenced work on the world’s first undersea commercial data centre, with completion expected in five years. Data centres are fitted with server racks that store and process internet data, and consume large amounts of energy to cool their computer networks. Power costs represent up to 70% of operation expenses at a data centre in China,

        In 2018, Microsoft lowered a non-commercial data centre the size of a truck about 35 metres (117 feet) into the sea off Britain. The miniature data centre was retrieved last year, and Microsoft declared the experiment a success. The Hainan data centre is bigger, with 100 data cabinets, each of which to contain several server racks. But small-to-medium data centres on land typically house up to 3,000 server racks each.

        Meanwhile, China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, the nation’s cryptocurrency hub, has launched a new crackdown on virtual currency mining after ordering all mines to close March 2022. The region’s energy-use authority has set up a “mining reporting platform” for the public to flag relevant activities.

        Simultaneously, the province of Sichuan is probing the region’s crypto mining situation amid in China. The National Energy Administration is holding a summit meeting this month of various local power companies for their opinions on crypto operations and the impact of shutting crypto mines.

        Reuters reckons the meeting can potentially lead to a clampdown on virtual currency operators in Sichuan, the country’s second-biggest bitcoin production hub. However, the announcement on BBC Radio 4 news on May 28 (at 18.25) that this is leading to a nationwide ban on coal-fired production of bitcoins is probably premature.

      2. Thanks Andrew, this is really valuable information. I hope others comment.

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