Energy investments can drive greener data centres

Energy investments can drive greener data centres

Energy and power are being stirred vigorously into the mix of sustainable practices and exceptional computing technology. Although cooling techniques are at a pinnacle of innovation – Supermicro’s 40% reduced PUE from liquid-cooled solutions and ZutaCore’s waterless direct-to-chip liquid cooling, come to mind – new initiatives for electricity, heat re-use and water consumption are brewing due to the growing figures of usage.

Data centres in the European Union used an estimated 45-65TWh of electricity in 2022, equivalent to 1.8-2.6% of total regional electricity consumption, according to data from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service. The top four data centre markets – Germany, France, the Netherlands and Ireland – accounted for nearly two-thirds of the region’s data centre use, despite having less than 40% of the population.

For operators, opting in to greener strategies and balancing the concerns of costs and continued services to customers can be a tumultuous decision. We spoke to Jonathan Anstey, Director of Sustainability EMEA, and Ruari Cairns, Director of Risk Management and European Operations, from True, powered by Open Energy Market, who share their thoughts on the current energy environment, recent news and the pull of the data centre industry.

Jonathan Anstey, Director of Sustainability EMEA, True – powered by Open Energy Market

Tell us a bit about True, powered by Open Energy Market, and how the organisation works with the data centre industry.

Jonathan Anstey: The organisation is all about helping businesses reduce short-term energy costs and make confident long-term energy decisions. In a nutshell, we help businesses transform energy procurement strategies. Our platform, True, provides businesses with the means to dynamically compare multiple sustainability projects, suppliers and funding options to build a commercially competitive path to net zero.

Ruari Cairns: Exactly that. True combines actual energy procurement costs with sustainability projects in one platform – equipping businesses with investment-grade insights and data. This enables businesses to make more informed decisions on which sustainability projects to implement, when to implement them and how to finance them.

Anstey: Our expertise lies within our deep understanding of the energy market, and this is what we pass on to businesses to help them adapt their energy purchasing strategies in line with their sustainability investment plans.

Ruari Cairns, Director of Risk Management and European Operations, True – powered by Open Energy Market

Cairns: Recently, we have been doing significant work with the data centre industry. The industry is leading the way when it comes to energy management. Perhaps above and beyond any other industry, it is committed to innovative technologies and strategies relating to energy usage and we are here to support it on its evolving journey in this space.

Reflecting on the big stories across the data centre industry from the first half of the year, what are your thoughts on Google starting construction on a new US$1 billion data centre in the UK?

Anstey: It’s fantastic news for the UK and its economy. Google’s investment highlights the UK’s potential as a hub for technological innovation. We fully expect to see Google continue its commitment to sustainability by implementing renewable technologies in this data centre. Google was among the first corporations to really get behind Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) as a way to invest in renewable energy. I’m sure Google will continue its pioneering spirit when it comes to the running of its UK-based data centre.

Cairns: Absolutely. We have little doubt that Google will nicely showcase how data centres can be run with sustainability front of mind. Of course, Google has a large budget to play with; but it is worth recognising that smaller data centres can also play a significant role in going green – saving both carbon and money at the same time. Through measures like strategic PPAs and onsite energy generation, sustainable operations can even provide additional revenue streams.

Do you approve of the recent news coming out of Octopus Energy about the organisation investing in a scheme which recycles heat from computer data processing centres?

Cairns: Yes – it’s a tangible step towards environmental responsibility and demonstrates the industry’s commitment to implementing innovative solutions. There are so many new and exciting opportunities for innovative energy buyers these days, which are often easy to overlook, or be aware of in the first place.

What is it that draws you to working with the data centre industry?

Cairns: The industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors globally. Often, its customers are scaling up at unprecedented rates and many hail from the likes of Silicon Valley. For such customers, the risk of not being seen as green poses a serious reputational risk. As a result, we are finding that the data centre industry is at the forefront of innovation relating to energy usage and that it is truly turning talk into action – proactively implementing exciting new schemes and technologies. It is a thrill to work with an industry that shares our vision for sustainability and has an appetite for game-changing innovation.

What are some of the challenges that you are seeing the data centre industry face when it comes to energy?

Cairns: One challenge is accurately forecasting energy usage, which can lead to underconsumption and capacity constraints elsewhere. This is especially true during the ‘ramp-up’ phase when a new customer moves into a data centre. These customers can often take a number of years before they will start to consume their full load, so ensuring they have the right contracts, and procurement strategy – for both power and renewables – in place is paramount.

Anstey: Capacity constraints are indeed a concern. However, we see potential in battery storage solutions to address these challenges. Advancements in battery technology offer promising opportunities for increased efficiency and affordability. 

Cairns: Additionally, selecting optimal locations to site data centres is critical. In recent years we have seen growth in South Africa – due to appealing tax incentives – and Scandinavia – due to cooler temperatures helping to keep equipment cool and the existence of a green energy grid. The important thing, and something that we can help to consult on, is that data centres have proper frameworks in place to make informed decisions about where they site themselves.

Do you have a final message for the industry?

Anstey: The data centre industry holds immense potential to drive economic growth and innovation while minimising its environmental footprint. By embracing sustainability and adopting innovative solutions, companies can pave the way for a greener and more resilient future.

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