Power and purpose: Navigating data centre efficiency and circular solutions

Power and purpose: Navigating data centre efficiency and circular solutions

Earlier this year, I was invited to attend Schneider Electric’s Paris Summit to hear about leadership perspectives concerning decarbonisation, intelligent design and digitisation for the future of data centres. Whilst there, I caught up with Louis-Marie Le Leuch, Energy & Sustainability Director of Digital Realty France, who discussed energy management and sustainability, and suggested how he believes the need for data centre expansion can be balanced with environmental impact. 

The recent partnership between Schneider Electric and Digital Realty makes for a positive contribution to the upwards trajectory of an innovative circular economy. The collaboration initiative at Digital Realty’s PAR5 data centre in Paris aims to prolong and maintain the life of the mission-critical systems, including the organisation’s Low- and Medium Voltage electrical equipment, switchgear and three-phase Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS). Over the next three-to-five years, the project is expected to help Digital Realty save and avoid 50%-70% of the embodied carbon within this equipment.

This isn’t the first instance of successful circular innovations for Digital Realty. Its River Cooling project at its Marseille sites has one of the best Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratings in Europe of less than 1.2. Utilising underground water from a former mine, the river-based system helps save 18,400MWh of energy per year while cooling the rooms that house the servers.

Louis-Marie Le Leuch, Energy & Sustainability Director of Digital Realty France

What does your day-to-day look like as Energy and Sustainability Director?

It’s a mix. My main mission concerns the management of energy – at 14, soon to be 16 sites – as well as managing the carbon footprint on Scopes 1, 2 and 3. It’s also usually a lot of study, a lot of projects and a fair amount of reporting both internally and externally.

Can you outline some of the regional challenges Digital Realty faces when it comes to implementing sustainable data centre solutions?

Across France and beyond, we have to consider Scope 3. However, the main problem and one of our biggest difficulties is to find those solutions. We don’t impose something if the market doesn’t already have the solution. We don’t develop solutions as we don’t have time. Although we discuss with competitors and partners different solutions concerning the construction and equipment, we request others propose them to us. That’s why Schneider launching this programme is beneficial, as it helps us find solutions.

It’s important to have an open mind to see what solutions exist in development and we’re open to tests and initiatives to make our data centres a playground. Remaining patient and working alongside partners is how we develop ideas towards new solutions. While we’re at the beginning of this story regarding circularity, we still have to accelerate.

Through these discussions with partners who build our data centres, we found there will be difficulty discovering copper in 2030. This is a basic metal and six years is not far away which is why we’re looking at cabling with aluminium for easier recycling and the same purity.

Since its commission three years ago, how is the River Cooling in Marseille impacting Digital Realty’s operations today?

It’s an incredible project in terms of efficiency. We can use 22MW of cooling to refresh the sites and it’s completely free. For us to cool three of our main data centres in Marseille is huge. Data centres use a lot of electricity and heat, so this project has a huge impact – it’s 30x more efficient. The key here is it’s less than 1.15 PUE, the best in Europe with this solution. We’re extremely proud. 

How does Digital Realty’s involvement in the FLAP regions impact its sustainability strategy and what contributing factors make Paris a significant driving force?

Between all of the different data centres, whether ours or competitors’, we have something in common – renewable energy. We’re all on the same page, generally, for Scopes 1 and 2, but for Scope 3, we’re all learning. However, we’re striving to set an example to our fellow data centre colleagues. The aim is to do our best and meet new challenges. To do this we have to address three things: the first concerns the construction of our data centres. This represents around 45% of our Scope 3. Second concerns equipment, which sits at around 36%. Lastly, there’s the purchase of goods and services. By working closely with procurement departments, we can help create new ways to collaborate.

Can you outline Digital Realty’s approach to heat reuse and how such initiatives contribute to both sustainability and community engagement?

Last year, I took the map of Paris and Marseille, grabbed my pen and circled around each site roughly 1km. In the end, on the 14th site, we had six concrete projects with engagement from partners. I hope to see one project per year now, as the previous are all at different stages of maturity. However, with district heating, they take a year or two longer as they sometimes require extensions.

Regarding public perception, we can’t be seen to be passively wasting electricity. We must prove ourselves and be more circular in our approach.

How do you balance the need for data centre expansion with the need to reduce environmental impact?

It’s complicated. We know it’s not possible to continue with the same level of consumption, so we must change the market. No one has a crystal ball to see into the future, but it’s not possible to continue as we have done previously. It’s about changing what we do with sustainability, digital and energy, and this change can scare people. At the end of the day, it’s about individual behaviour and our plans for future generations.

Although we’re a business and we answer to the market, we’re also considering the impact of regulations and the individual conditions of the future. We must manage our own limits. Our objectives at Digital Realty are to make the best effort possible and follow the wisdom available.

Why is circularity labelled ‘disruptive’ in the industry and how do you expect it to revolutionise operations over the next few years?

Circularity isn’t only disruptive for data centres, but across all industries. It’s important to take the train at the start and not be constrained in the future – moving with the disruption instead of against it. We’re just an operator of equipment and it isn’t up to us to propose or develop solutions. Anticipation and preparation are key, as we currently don’t have all the solutions.

Click below to share this article

Browse our latest issue

Intelligent Data Centres

View Magazine Archive