Digitization is integral to global economic and social progress, and many see smart technologies as paving the way towards net zero. However, all this data needs to be stored, managed, and distributed by data centres – and this takes a significant environmental toll. To ensure we can continue to harness the benefits of advancing information technology, we need to identify better ways to manage our data centres.
At Arloid, we know lean data centres are possible. Through upgrading equipment, implementing sustainable practices, and – principally – optimizing building management, the impact of our digital technologies can be minimized.
The solution lies with AI.
Our lives revolve around data, and this data is powered by millions of physical servers that consume energy, grow hot, and require continual cooling. In many data centres, this is done using liquid cooling, placing increased pressure on global water systems – many of which are already under stress. Above all, though, the environmental impact of data centres comes down to energy use and carbon emissions. And here, the figures are worrying.
Fundamentally, digital technologies are resource intensive, consuming more energy than entire countries. Estimates vary, but current figures put the electricity consumption of data centres at 200 TWh/yr. And that impact is only going to grow, with the emissions generated by information and communication technologies (ICT) increasing by a staggering 9% every year, predicted to reach 15-30% of total consumption in certain countries by 2030. According to the Shift Project, they currently account for 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with data centres and data transmission networks behind around 1% of these.
Other figures are equally stark; some have purported data centres to be responsible for around 1-1.5% of the world’s energy consumption. Can there be a sustainable future for these energy-hungry facilities?
The internal environment of a data centre needs to be kept within strict thermal limits – but servers generate large amounts of heat as they run. The result? A continual battle to maintain the optimum conditions when it comes to temperature, humidity, and ventilation, and a substantial quantity of wasted energy. Clearly, this is a serious problem – but it’s also an energy-saving opportunity.
A number of tech giants have explored innovative methods for cooling their data centres efficiently. Google uses seawater to chill some of its servers, and Facebook has launched a data centre in the Arctic Circle. A US energy company, Green Mountain, has located one of its data centres in the middle of a mountain, whilst the World Data Archive is based in a converted mine in the Norwegian mountains under permafrost conditions.
Another possible solution is the use of smart technology. AI is being implemented in data centres across the globe as an effective means of minimizing energy consumption. By assessing a wide range of live data including output, humidity, temperature, and airflow, AI can proactively maintain conditions in the thermal window recommended by ASHRAE with maximum energy efficiency.
Optimized HVAC for data centres is here – explore our pioneering technology.
Despite the environmental impact inherent in the world of data, tracking emissions and consumption can be tricky. Few organizations manage their own data centres because many host their computing in the cloud. That means emissions generated via data centres are often grouped under scope 3 emissions; that is, emissions out of a business’ direct control. Whereas large organizations are typically required to publicly report scope 1 and 2 emissions, the same cannot be said for scope 3. As a result, the true environmental cost of data centres may be much greater than we all think.
A green future is possible for the world’s data centres. Already, building managers across the globe have begun implementing measures to reduce energy consumption and emissions, and new data centres are being built with the environment in mind. A transition to net zero requires a total shift in the way we design our data centres, but such a shift is possible with the right investment, commitment, and technology.
Businesses should be looking to switch to renewable energy where possible – either through own power generation or by choosing a green supplier. Legacy infrastructure also typically underperforms when it comes to energy, with newer servers capable of handling higher workloads whilst consuming less overall energy. By making replacements, energy demand will significantly fall. Other opportunities for improvement include using recycled water or rainwater for cooling systems, and limiting e-waste.
Building utilities are also a substantial source of energy consumption and emissions. Smart technology can combat this by working with existing BMS and HVAC systems to zone the centre into microclimates and ensure conditions remain within the accepted industry limits of 22-24°C for temperature and 45-55% humidity. All for the least amount of energy possible – green HVAC, green data.
Data centres are the engines of our world – powering critical infrastructure, telecommunications, global security, financial services, digital media, mobile computing, world knowledge, and much more. But digital progress and expansion cannot come at the expense of increased emissions. With energy in crisis, we need to revaluate the sustainability of our data – and our smart AI technology is helping us do just that. By providing the conditions for top server performance with greater energy efficiency, our AI is making net zero possible.