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Commitment to greener operations critical to success of data centre sector

Commitment to greener operations critical to success of data centre sector

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Being burdened with the responsibility of generating a sheer amount of power means data centre leaders have found themselves with no choice but to design and generate their facilities with sustainability top of mind. Here, Billy Durie, Global Sector Head for Data Centres at Aggreko, offers some best practice advice for data centre managers to prove their commitment to greener data centre practices and for reducing their facility’s environmental impact.

Pessimism arising from a recent survey of data centre owners and operators about the sector’s sustainability reaffirms the need for green practice at all phases of a facility’s lifetime, according to Aggreko.

The Uptime Institute’s recent questioning of 400 global stakeholders over the data centre sector’s sustainability has shown that only 38% of respondents believe the industry’s environmental commitments had proven effective. Similarly, 45% of respondents replied that they had led to few or no reductions in energy use, water use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Faced with these latest industry insights, Billy Durie, Global Sector Head for Data Centres at Aggreko, is suggesting that facility construction is also a vital part of reducing the sector’s environmental impact. According to Durie, paying great attention to this aspect of a facility’s lifetime is key to further reducing carbon emissions during operation.

“The latest Uptime Institute report comes at a time when the industry is under more pressure than ever to decarbonise,” said Durie. “However, despite the right actions being taken insofar as environmental commitments are concerned, the analysis shows more can be done.

“As the data centre market continues to boom, greener IT infrastructure is required to help create a better future. To achieve this, the industry must go beyond day-to-day operations and consider the impact of construction, which can be responsible for a large proportion of any facility’s overall carbon footprint.”

The Institute’s report goes on to say that European respondents felt more can be done to help data centres reduce their environmental impact. According to Durie, industry suppliers in this market will be crucial in helping this sentiment become a reality, especially with the provision of more efficient equipment and greener fuels.

“The fact of the matter is that the data centre sector alone cannot achieve the decarbonisation required – the supply chain must take similar action,” said Durie. “Aggreko, for instance, has committed to investing c.£30 million in more environmentally friendly temporary solutions before the end of the year to achieve this aim, as part of our Greener Upgrades initiative.

“Similarly, as far as we are aware, we are the only equipment hire company to have carried out independent, verified testing across multiple generator nodes on the use of hydro treated vegetable oil (HVO) as a drop-in fuel, monitoring emissions and impact on efficiency. We are also committed to cutting diesel use for our customers and reducing local air quality emissions by 50% within 10 years. As all companies work towards carbon neutrality by 2050, actions such as these will be key to turning around industry sentiment from the negativity seen in this latest Uptime Institute report.”

Aggreko has also said that as recent reports show rapidly escalating data centre supply in the FLAP markets, construction site stakeholders need to identify energy solutions to keep powering this rapid expansion.

According to a recent CBRE report, new supply surged in 2021, with 397 MW coming online across the FLAP markets. With this momentum expected to continue, Aggreko is encouraging data centre owners and operators to get ahead of the curve when it comes to energy scarcity and powering increasing amounts of space.

“Though the European market’s continued boom is undoubtedly good news, certain worrying trends can be identified by delving through the data behind this continued growth,” said Durie. “Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that the FLAP markets have experienced its two largest quarters for take-up in the second half of the year, with 105MW in Q3 and 96MW in Q4 respectively. Taking this into account, the question must be asked – how is all this going to be powered?

“Such scale, coupled with the fact the CBRE has anticipated higher costs caused by energy price rises, will pose challenges for those building new facilities to service this growth. Namely, data centre stakeholders may find themselves unable to power expanded halls or increased take-up in existing premises due to grid constraints.”

The effects of grid strain can be clearly seen in Amsterdam, where a moratorium has been in place since July 2019 on data centre construction in both the city and nearby Haarlemmermeer’s municipalities. Though not as extreme, other areas are experiencing similar issues. For example, the CBRE has identified government-imposed restrictions on build activity as a key challenge for the rapidly expanding Frankfurt market.

Such limitations highlight the role decentralised energy solutions could play in meeting data centre construction demand. Specifically, by using generator technology as a bridging solution during both the project and when facilities come online, power provision can be maintained while grid capacity is increased for these new or expanded facilities.

“Looked upon from the outside, it could be argued that the European data centre sector is experiencing what might be regarded as an enviable problem,” said Durie. “Yet this remains a pressing concern and one that must be addressed if the FLAP markets’ upward trajectory is to continue unabated. The provision of green distributed energy equipment on hired basis is one such way to bridge this gap between ever-growing data centre demand and an increasingly unreliable and constrained grid infrastructure.

“Whether through the use of alternative fuels such as HVO, alongside Stage V generators for larger sites or hybrid battery systems for smaller loads, the technology is already there to sustainably assist this transition. Considering these facilities are increasingly situated in built-up areas subject to emissions controls, this is also a vital concern.”

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