Skip to content Skip to footer

It’s not easy being green

data centre sustainability

Data centres provide the foundations of today’s digital world. From healthcare and educational institutions to financial services and ecommerce, the last 18 months has seen unprecedented activity in cloud migration and digital adoption.

As a result, and as evidenced by a recent report by Technavio, the data centre market in Europe will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 20% by 2025. 

The challenge is the expansion of data centres comes at a time when the need for green credentials is high on the public and business agenda. This, coupled with the fact that data centres consume 3% of the world’s energy, is leading to them developing a power-hungry reputation. 

Having earned a utility-like status over the pandemic, the data centre industry is under more pressure to take meaningful steps towards reducing carbon emissions.

Against this backdrop of expansion and acceleration, let’s look at how operators are challenging the current narrative surrounding data centres and sustainability. 

Setting the green standard

One of the largest data centre operators in the Nordics, Green Mountain, exemplifies what it means to be committed to the environment with its DC1-Stavanger facility, located inside a mountain. More than skin-deep, the Norwegian-based colocation data centre has a green exterior that extends to its critical infrastructure. 

The former high-security NATO ammunition storage facility turned data centre runs entirely on hydropower – and looks like a location from a Bond film. Cooling a facility typically accounts for 40-80% of the electricity required to power servers. Here, Green Mountain uses its natural surroundings to its advantage. 

The 22,600 sqm facility is cooled by a fjord and nearby rivers with a continuous water temperature of 8°C. The cooling solution is one of the most efficient in the world. It uses less than 3 kW of power to gain over 1,000 kW of cooling, delivering a significant cost reduction to its clients while supporting targets for energy efficiency.

Even the waste heat produced by the data centre is used, with Green Mountain entering into an agreement with Norwegian Lobster Farm to create the world’s first land-based lobster farm – representing an innovative example of a circular economy. And one that delivers a significant carbon footprint reduction.

Committed to making environmentally-friendly decisions for the benefit of its customers and community, the facility operators prioritised product and supplier sustainability credentials when procuring a cooling system for a data centre extension.

The extension included the installation of chilled water perimeter units in its new data centre space, giving the DC1 facility 5 MW of additional cooling capacity. 

At its DC3-Oslo site, a monolithic, transformer-free uninterruptible power supply system (UPS) has been deployed. With operating efficiency up to 99% and power density at 1,200 kilovolt-amperes (kVA), Green Mountain was able to achieve the smallest footprint and the highest efficiency available in the market at this power rating.

Alexander de Flon Ronning, Design and Product Manager, Green Mountain, anticipates the colocation’s overall power usage effectiveness (PUE), which is already extremely efficient, will further improve.

Evolving the sustainability narrative

But what if your data centre isn’t located in a mountain by a fjord?

How else are data centre operators progressing the roadmap towards sustainability and adopting innovative technologies to monitor and limit their carbon footprint? Here, IT giants such as Microsoft and Amazon are leading from the front.

For example, Microsoft, to meet increasing demand for cloud services in Sweden, has announced plans to open sustainable data centres in the region. Powered by IoT technology that monitors energy consumption for renewable energy matching, Microsoft will ensure its facilities operate on 100% renewable energy. What’s more, Microsoft has laid out its ambitions of becoming carbon negative by 2030, and to remove all the carbon it has emitted since it was founded by 2050. It’s put aside a $1 billion investment fund for this purpose. 

The largest cloud provider, Amazon, has also made gains in its sustainability strategy, co-founding The Climate Pledge, which promises to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040. It too is continuing to scale up its investment in renewable energy projects, recently confirming nine renewable energy projects across Europe and North America. Already in motion, Amazon’s wind farm projects in Ireland are forecast to add 229 MW of renewable energy to the grid each year. This will reduce carbon emissions by 366,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, producing enough renewable energy to power 185,000 Irish homes each year.

Decarbonisation and demand-side services

To play their part in decarbonisation, in line with the Paris Agreement, data centre operators must continue to advance sustainable strategies to feed the growing appetite for digital services, while maintaining the health of our planet. And while the projects above are inspiring, the IEA’s Data Centre and Data Transmission Network Report asks for IT leaders to proceed with care and make an informed approach when adopting renewables. 

It suggests facilities operators start by assessing which projects will benefit the local grid by collaborating with electricity utilities, project developers and regulators. This is because achieving 100% of annual demand with renewable energy certificates (REC) doesn’t always equate to data centres being 100% powered by renewable sources around the clock.

Looking ahead, the key to sustainability success for operators is to work with local renewable power operators by establishing direct Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). Backed by a portfolio of renewable energy products, data centre providers can avoid accusations of greenwashing and claim 100% renewable use.

The role of renewable energy and demand-side services

Transitioning to renewables comes with the challenge of energy sources such as wind and solar being unpredictable compared to their fossil fuel counterparts. This is where demand-side services come into play, giving data centres greater energy storage capabilities while insulating the grid from faults and assisting in the optimising of electricity supplies.

Demand-side services involve data centres adapting their electricity usage patterns to save on costs and reduce carbon footprint. A tariff-based scheme, the data centre can pump electricity into the power grid at times of high demand. 

To enable this service requires using today’s UPS technology with grid support features that can store surplus renewable energy. In addition, they provide fast frequency response services to help mitigate the network faults that tend to become more prevalent as grids move to renewable power generation. The result is that data centres can rely on stored renewable energy during peak time and not be a drain on the grid. It also makes it possible for data centre operators to generate a new source of income by exporting surplus stored energy back to the grid, while also helping to increase network stability.

A greener approach

Currently, the media presents data centres as being a weight on existing electricity supplies. The use of advanced UPS technologies means data centres can reduce grid reliance and support the transition to renewable energy sources – changing the narrative.

As data centres and other energy-intensive industries transition to a greener approach, UPS technology will be pivotal. And as the adoption of grid support and demand-side services within the industry takes hold, we’ll see the environmental benefits, including reduced carbon emissions.

With a proactive approach being taken by operators across the industry, data centres can take a lead role in minimising carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency, playing its part on the long road to decarbonisation.

Picture of Russ Barker
Russ Barker
Key Account Sales Director at Vertiv

You may also like

Stay In The Know

Get the Data Centre Review Newsletter direct to your inbox.