Ashraf Yehia, Managing Director – Middle East, Eaton, asks how the data centre industry can be made more sustainable.
The current crisis situation has highlighted the critical role being played by telecom networks and the data centre industry in keeping critical communication, information, social media and entertainment applications running. So, despite the challenges, the global data centre market is likely to see very significant growth throughout 2020 and beyond.
It is estimated that the Middle East data centre market is likely to grow at a CAGR of around 7% during the period 2018-2024. Growth is forecast for big market players globally but funding will also continue to flow towards many smaller data centre companies and new entrants looking to break ground on the next generation of data centres. However, this raises important questions: What is the environmental impact of this growth, what are the pros and cons? Is it time to transform traditional thinking and follow a different path?
So, what can data centres do, from the small local data centre to the largest hyperscale cloud data centre?
By shifting attention away from traditional thinking about ‘greening’ my data centre to more transformative thinking like ‘greening the entire grid’, we can make the data centre industry in the region and beyond more sustainable long-term.
This may sound naïve but it’s actually more achievable in the-near term than most data centre designers and operators think.
The production cost of grid scale renewable energy has fallen dramatically and is now lower per unit than most carbon or nuclear. As national grids migrate to renewables, the variable nature of that energy source presents grid system challenges. Grid instability is bad news not only for the grid companies and their clients but also of direct concern to data centre operators. To address this potential instability, secondary auxiliary sources and infrastructure can be used. This is a potential cost barrier.
There are vast electrical energy reserves and infrastructure tied into data centre operations. Through the use of an EnergyAware UPS, these backup systems can be used to provide the grid with these auxiliary services. National energy markets are opening to allow the provision and trade of these services (frequency containment, fast frequency response, demand response). These services can be provided by data centres with zero impact on the primary and critical IT loads.
If the data centre industry provides these services, it removes the limits on the percentage of renewables a grid can adopt. This shows how a data centre can accelerate the adoption of renewables, ‘green the grid’ at national level and mitigate risk in its own primary electrical supply.
This is what is meant by transformative thinking.
Data centres could potentially be remunerated for these grid services by the grid companies in the region. So, it’s a double win: in addition to ‘greening the grid’, data centre operators can tap into a new revenue stream to offset existing infrastructure costs.
An EnergyAware UPS has the underlying technology that allows the UPS, and its connected backup power, to function as a reserve to the grid. It has the imbedded technology to allow a policy defined, two-way flow of energy between the data centre and the grid.