The data centre industry is shifting its focus towards sustainability in order to scale up facilities while minimising the environmental impact of operations. At a recent conference, “Data Centres in India”, leading industry players discussed their current focus areas, net-zero timelines, and future plans. Key takeaways from the discussion…

Akhil Agarwal, Head, Power Management and Renewable Energy, STT Global Data Centres India Private Limited

Data centre players across India, on average, have a 20 per cent green footprint. In comparison, 38 per cent of STT’s power is sourced from renewable energy. We aim to increase this to 51 per cent by 2026 and achieve net zero by 2030. Our decarbonisation plan includes both single-technology and multi-technology processes, such as wind-solar hybrid renewable energy procurement. We also plan to employ the renewable energy round-the-clock concept by integrating battery storage or pumped hydro storage.

We have analysed our losses at various levels of voltage step-down. Earlier, if our data centre was connected at the 33 kV voltage level, we had an 11 kV voltage le­vel for the step-down from 33 kV. From 11 kV, we have reduced the voltage to 433 volts to supply power to our data centre. Later, we determined that there was no need for an 11 kV system in between. So, for our new data centre with smaller capa­cities and where a 33 kV voltage level is sufficient, we have brought down the voltage level from 33 kV to 433 volts. Hence, there is limited transformer loss. This has helped increase our power usage effectiveness (PUE). Earlier, as a legacy company, the average PUE of our old data centres was over 1.95. Due to strict monitoring and replacement of older equipment, we have been able to bring this down to 1.8. Each year, we decrease our PUE by 0.2 in absolute terms.

Generally, as data centre companies grow, they cannot reduce their carbon emi­ssions, but they can control their carbon intensity. If a company’s carbon emissions divided by its revenue is brought down, it is a step in the right direction. In the past three years, we have reduced our carbon intensity by 22 per cent.

“As data centre companies grow, they cannot reduce their carbon emissions, but they can control their carbon intensity.” Akhil Agarwal

Colonel Deepak Anand, Chief Executive Officer, Public Services, ESDS Software Solutions Private Limited

Our major focus area is the government vertical. The public sector accounts for the bulk of ESDS’ revenue. Today, the government is focused on rolling out services for citizens at a pan-Indian level. ESDS has realised this opportunity and has de­veloped solutions for this roll-out. The government is also looking to classify data centre operators or cloud service providers into two levels, L1 and L2. L1 operators will have more than 51 per cent of indigenous components. This is an opportunity for domestic players to provide infrastructure-as-a-service and become full-fledged cloud service operators.

Further, security is becoming a major concern with the increasing pace of digitalisation. India is the largest digital economy in the world, which makes it a potential target for cyberattacks. As per industry statistics, India is among the top five most attacked nations in the world. These attacks can come from state and non-state players. ESDS has recognised this threat and established a segregated vertical to address cybersecurity issues. The company provides highly critical services for the country. Almost 98 per cent of smart me­ters in the country are being serviced from ESDS data centres. So, we should ensure that no data breach occurs.

“The government is looking to classify data centre operators into two levels, L1 and L2. L1 operators will have over 51 per cent of indigenous components. This is an opportunity for domestic players to not only provide infrastructure-as-aservice but also to become full-fledged cloud service operators.” Colonel Deepak Anand

Anil Nama, Chief Information Officer, Pre-sales, CtrlS Datacenters Limited

In 2008, the industry primarily relied on air cooling. CtrlS introduced variables that were outside of the cooling units. So, instead of the outside cooling systems operating at a fixed revolution per minute, we introduced the variable meter. When we reduced the speed to 80 per cent, we achieved power savings of 40 per cent. The second step involved wrapping copper tubing on pipes and rotating the cold air. This prevented too much heat from escaping to the outside cooling unit and increased the efficiency of heat exchange. After that, we established the Mumbai data centre with 5,000 racks and experimented with transitioning from air cooling to water cooling. We designed the building so that any water leakage would be channelled outside. In Hyderabad, using older methods, the PUE was around 1.55, whereas in Mumbai, it was recorded at 1.3-1.35. This is because water is a better medium for heat exchange compared to air. Next, we launched Mumbai DC2, wherein we wrapped the external facade with solar panels. The 1.3 MWp solar panel generates over 1 MW of electricity for captive purposes. The data centre still functions with a PUE of approximately 1.22-1.28. CtrlS also deployed Asia’s largest gas-insulated substation in Mum­bai, drawing direct grid power. This helped reduce transmission and distribution losses.

We are now focusing on equipment. There is a significant convergence within the IT equipment. Currently, we are experimenting to see if we can supply direct current with an external rectifier so that there is no convergence inside. We are also exploring the possibility of bringing water inside the rack to eliminate air exchange.

Green energy is an economically via­ble option for generating power. A die­sel generator set costs approximately Rs 17-Rs 18 per kW for generation. For large th­ermal plants, it typically ranges between Rs 5.5 and Rs 9, depending on the size. Solar plants generate power at roughly Rs 2.5-Rs 3.5, whereas hydropower costs less than Rs 2. Thus, it makes commercial sen­se for data centre players to utilise po­wer that is not only green but also economically sustainable.

We are optimistic about the government’s introduction of energy exchanges. With this, we can buy direct power. It will no longer be a captive unit, as we will be able to integrate the whole grid within the data centre campus. The government has recognised and granted approval for it. If green power can also be sourced there, it would create a level playing field for all data centre players and result in cost reductions for customers. In India, the cost per MW for data centres is still 30-40 per cent cheaper compared to the ASEAN countries and is 100 per cent cheaper than the developed nations. This is fuelling the growth of the data centre industry in the country.

Our sustainable efforts are not limited to power, having undertaken initiatives in various other segments as well. For ins­tance, we practise land reuse. While establishing DC5, we utilised an empty land, excavated the earth and ensured that the flora and fauna were protected. We delayed the project by six months to ensure that we maintain its greenery. Another significant effort is the conservation of water. Our data centre campus in Navi Mumbai consumes approximately 1 million litres of water per day. To address this, we have implemented sewage treatment systems and filtration plants. Through this system, we have been able to reuse water for various purposes, including drinking, due to its robust build and its ability to soften water. As a result, the cooling apparatus has an extended lifespan and allows operators to achieve cost savings. In terms of safety, we have made si­gnificant efforts to ensure an accident-free work environment. From a power perspective, we have the grid and are also procuring energy from the Indian Energy Exch­ange. We have obtained green power for our Noida and Bengaluru data centres and have made significant progress in Hydera­bad, where 53 per cent of power comes from hydropower. These initiatives will help us achieve 100 per cent carbon neutrality by 2030.

“It makes commercial sense for data centre players to utilise power that is not only green but also economically sustainable.” Anil Nama

We have a keen interest in batteries. As per long-term calculations, if battery prices per kW go down by 43 per cent, we will be able to store and reuse batteries. Our primary objective in buying and retaining solar plants is to avoid installing batteries in the data centres; instead, we aim to place them at the generation facility. If battery prices decrease by 26-27 per cent and we double our requirements, we can utilise 100 per cent of the capacity. We are keenly watching this sector. Batt­ery plants will attract significant investments from various players because they not only make economic sense but can also run as independent profit-and-loss en­tities. This appears to be a response to the energy crisis in India.

Going forward, data centres will be­come more sustainable as we have the ri­ght skill sets, over 330 days of sunshine as compared to 100-200 days in other co­untries, and a proactive government that allows us to experiment and bring the best features to data centre facilities.