Data Centers Energy Management: Transition To Renewable Energy
The pandemic has brought about rapid digital transformation. We’re spending more of our lives online than ever before. Data centers are at the heart of this digital transformation. But while data centers have benefited our lives immensely, they consume enormous amounts of electricity. This is a critical issue given the role emissions from power generation plays in climate change. So how can we solve this issue? And what options are available to data center owners to reduce their climate impact?
Electricity use in Data Centers
It’s now estimated that data centers consume approximately 1 percent of global electricity use. With consumption estimated at over 200 TWh, global data centers consume more power than the entire consumption of Poland.
However, data centers have made vast improvements in energy efficiency over the past decade. In a recent study, the authors estimated that data center electricity use grew 6 percent by 2018 compared with 2010. Whereas global data center computes instances increased by 550 percent over the same time period. This has been a huge success story for the sector.
Efficiency practices to reduce the impact
Data centers typically use a standard metric of efficiency, Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). A data center PUE provides insight into its energy efficiency by comparing the total building power required with the power required to run the computing equipment. Based on an Uptime Institute survey, the average PUE has decreased from ~2.0 to ~1.6 in the past decade. Currently, Google’s data centers are running at the top-end of efficiency with a PUE of ~1.1.
The advances in PUE over the past decade are because of the following reasons:
- Priority is given to data centers established in cooler locations (i.e. Iceland and Norway)
- Free-cooling as a cooling mechanism to avoid expensive electricity-powered chillers
- Using more efficient equipment in power distribution/transformers/UPS/lighting
- Design improvements in existing data centers — hot/cold aisle containment
- Better cooling and temperature control
- Use of machine learning and AI to optimise systems
Clean Energy Leaders
Energy efficiency improvements aren’t the only way to reduce a data center’s climate impact. Renewable energy procurement is another key tactic used by the industry to reduce or even eliminate Scope 2 emissions, which represent the biggest slice in this business. For a data center that doesn’t purchase renewable electricity yet, there are a number of options for renewable energy purchasing. These include signing virtual or physical corporate PPAs, on-site generation, green tariffs, and renewable energy certificates.
The data center sector has been a core driver of renewable energy sourcing in the past decade. In 2020, tech giants Amazon, Google, and Facebook were among the top ten buyers of clean energy. All three have significant data center operations.
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