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Schneider Electric EVP on how data centres can balance reliability and sustainability

Schneider Electric EVP on how data centres can balance reliability and sustainability

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For Schneider Electric, sustainability has been a priority for many years and the company was recently ranked as the world’s most sustainable in the 2021 by Corporate Knights Global 100 Index. Now, as sustainability rises to the top of the agenda for many more organisations, Schneider Electric is playing its part in helping customers and partners to achieve their own green objectives. Here, Pankaj Sharma, Executive Vice President – Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric, discusses why sustainability is top priority for today’s businesses and consumers, and offers his insights into how data centre organisations can conquer the age-old challenge of delivering uptime and operational reliability in a sustainable way.

The critical issue of climate change is driving strategic discussions within board rooms as sustainability has become a major factor in business decision-making over the last year – particularly in light of COP26.

As one of the industries which contributes most to carbon emissions, the onus is on data centre teams to make smarter, greener decisions when investing in new technologies.

The IT industry as a whole must play its part by making strategic eco-friendly decisions which serve to benefit the planet rather than threaten it.

Intelligent Data Centres spoke to Pankaj Sharma, Executive Vice President – Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric, to find out more about how the climate crisis impacts the sector – and vice versa – as well as how data centre teams can make bold steps on the path to a more sustainable future and the importance of sustainability for Schneider Electric as a business.

How has increased consumer awareness and demand for sustainability impacted organisations across Europe?

In the last few years, the appreciation, or awareness of sustainability has gone up substantially, especially within the data centre industry. There are of course organisations which have been talking about sustainability for a long time. At Schneider Electric, for example, we’ve had the Sustainability Index for almost a decade. However, the increased need for digitisation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with more people working from home and growing awareness of how technology is impacting the environment, has caused many businesses, both in and outside of the industry, to focus on reducing carbon emissions.

People are also realising that to meet the needs of digitisation, you need to build more and more digital infrastructure. And, of course, when you build more infrastructure, the need for it to become more sustainable is even greater.

There are certain studies which highlight how important sustainability has become in terms of decision-making. Last year, for example, 451 did a study focused on the data centre colocation providers, which highlighted that 44% of customers expect efficiency and sustainability.

A recent study by HP found that 61% of employees believe business sustainability is mandatory.

What level of responsibility do data centre leaders have in reducing their facility’s carbon footprint?

It’s an important question and professionals within industry have a key responsibility to reduce their carbon footprint. Studies show that globally, data centres are responsible for between 1% to 2% of the world’s electricity usage, and It may sound like a small number, but it’s huge and almost equal to the airline industry’s carbon emissions.  Because the need for digitalisation has risen so much in the last year and a half, it means more data centres need to be built.

Hence there is a need for the industry to build more data centres in an extremely sustainable fashion. That’s why data centres play a very important role.

Our study with 451 Research also found that 97% of providers’ customers are asking for contractual sustainability commitments, so it’s a key requirement for end-users. In Europe, we also have the Climate Pledge 2030 and the EU Green Deal, which further demonstrate the need for sustainability within the industry.

Can you tell us how sustainability is central to Schneider Electric’s own strategy and how that’s embedded across the business?

Sustainability has been a part of Schneider Electric’s DNA for the last 15 years and we’ve had the Sustainability Index in place to help us report in a transparent way.

Our mission is to be the world’s digital partner for sustainability and efficiency. We were ranked as the world’s most sustainable corporation by Corporate Knights in 2021 and we are continuing to work with our customers and partners to help them understand the need to become more sustainable, and to support them on that journey.

Which tools and technologies should organisations consider investing in to enable more sustainability across their functions?

In general, when you think of data centre operators, I think there is a need for a new mindset. There’s often this misconception between resiliency and sustainability. It is generally felt that if you must build a more resilient data centre, it cannot be sustainable because you’re building more infrastructure. But that’s not true – both can be achieved in data centre operations without a huge compromise.

This does mean that the data centre needs to be designed more effectively and today we have tools and technologies by which we can design data centres both efficiently and sustainably. For example, through Schneider’s Green Premium products, we provide detailed information on regulatory compliance, material content, environmental impacts, circularity attributes, etc.

So, if you choose technologies and solutions with that level of Green Premium, you can build infrastructure which is highly sustainable.

The other tools which we use, for example, include Schneider Electric’s Data Center & Edge Global Energy Forecast. This offers a very simple view for our users to model out their potential global energy consumption based on their estimated data centre and edge computing deployments.

We also have Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software which can aid in providing greater visibility to and help maintain sustainable operations.

Can you share any recent examples of sustainability projects that your company has been involved with across Europe?

We have worked with a number of customers across the region. One example is with Newcastle City Council in the UK, where we helped them implement a modernisation and consolidation programme for the new e-government strategy, which aimed to deliver digital services to almost 300,000 citizens. We modernised the existing data centre capacity, upgraded its physical infrastructure including UPS, racks, enclosures, containment and deployed EcoStruxure management software, which helps ensure service continuity, reduces energy consumption and enables its power and cooling systems to be operated with optimum energy efficiency.

Then there are other examples like the EcoDataCenter, which we are very proud of. This is a very low carbon design. It’s almost 1.15 in PUE, which is by far one of the best in the industry. They are looking at reducing CO2 each year by almost 275,000 metric tonnes and are generating almost 400,000 megawatts out of clean, carbon free electricity per year.

What advice would you offer organisations that wish to take their first steps towards more sustainable operations?

We like to look at it as a five-step process. The first step is to create an in-house sustainability team with clear roles and KPIs across different functions of the organisation. Then, consider using the expertise of a data centre consultant to outline the strategy and identify some potential solutions. We should try and partner with the anchor tenants to develop those strategies because that’s important in the data centre space. Driving standards is also important, and finally considering making sure that the partners you are working with are also focussed on the same sustainability ambitions.  

How can organisations across the region prepare a long-term sustainability strategy?

It’s a combination of a holistic environmental sustainability strategy and at Schneider Electric we believe there are five tenets to get to this position.

It starts with setting up a bold and actionable strategy, followed by implementing the most efficient data centre designs. Then, when operating the data centre, there must be a focus on efficiency. Buying renewable energy is also absolutely crucial, and in Europe there are many places where you can access renewables.

The fact remains that globally, the grid still consists of almost 75% fossil fuel, which means that even if you’re building the best design from an infrastructure perspective, if you’re still sourcing fossil fuel-based energy, there’s another area you can address, so moving towards renewable energy is another important focus.

Then it’s important to decarbonise the supply chain, which means addressing Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. It’s always important to look at where you are in terms of where you’re sourcing and how you’re supplying, so looking at the entire supply chain and trying to decarbonise it as much as possible is essential.

In light of COP26, many companies and countries are looking to achieve Net Zero emissions. However, the ambitions differ from region to region. We have ten years to take significant action and begin to drive change. The next generation is going to play a crucial role and it the responsibility of us all, both in the industry and outside of it, to take sustainable action now.

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