Today, carbon emissions from data centres contribute around 3.7 per cent to the total greenhouse gas emissions. Leading data centre operators now agree that new standards and metrics, in combination with the power usage efficiency (PUE), can unlock the next green wave of impact and value for the industry.

New trinity for measuring data centre sustai­na­bility

There are three new parameters that are being considered for measuring data centre sustainability. Earlier, the focus has been only on PUE, but it is now time to take the discussion away from just PUE to other parameters. The new trinity of parameters include water usage efficiency (WUE), carbon usage effectiveness (CUE) and PUE.

  • WUE: Data centres are heavily reliant on potable drinking water. In fact, a 15 MW data centre facility consumes as mu­ch water as three mid-sized hospitals. In this regard, the WUE measures how much water a data centre facility uses for co­oling and other operational needs. However, WUE is different from the li­qu­id cooling concept.
  • CUE: CUE measures the carbon emissions from a data centre.
  • PUE: PUE measures the effectiveness of data centre energy usage by deter­mi­n­ing the amount of power used by computing equipment, rather than other systems. PUE is important as research clai­ms that 1 per cent of the total global en­er­gy consumption is just due to data ce­n­tres. This means that 7 per cent of the total greenhouse gases are being generated through data centres.

While the numbers for PUE are available globally, the numbers for WUE and CUE are not. As the discussion around su­stainability heats up globally, the industry also needs to discuss the global numbers for WUE and CUE along with PUE.

Hyperscalers to drive energy uptake

The energy uptake by data centres is going to increase in the future as the uptake of hyperscale data centres rises. Currently, we are planning data centres in the 100 MW capacity range, which was unheard of earlier. During the past two and a half ye­ars, growth has increased by leaps and bounds, which means sustainability needs to catch up as well.

Global scenario

In Singapore, 7 per cent of the total energy supply is going into data centres. In the US and Australia, 2-4 per cent of the co­untry’s total energy consumption is going into data centres. India has an installed data centre capacity of 500 MW. There are cities in the world such as Sin­ga­pore, Sy­dney and Tokyo, which have more ins­talled capacity than India. Hopefully, it will reach 1 GW in another five years’ time. Thank­fully, we have a fairly aware co­m­munity, wh­i­ch mak­es sure that the best sustai­n­ability practices from the world have been bro­ught into India be­cause large or­ga­ni­sations are making sure that they meet their global efficiency norms.

Progress in renewable energy adoption

There is noticeable progress that we as an industry have been witnessing on the re­ne­wable energy front. As the hyperscale cloud majors are the biggest consumers of data centres across the world, they have be­en commissioning captive units and entering into power purchase agreements (PPAs). In fact, hyperscalers account for a major proportion of the global renewable PPAs. For instance, Amazon has signed PPAs for around 14 GW of energy, while Microsoft has signed PPAs for around 10 GW. In the future, these organisations have an intent of becoming 100 per cent renewable energy driven. Amazon has a target of achieving 100 per cent renewable energy usage by 2025; Google has a target of achieving 100 per cent zero-carbon electricity by 2030; and Equinix has a target of converting 88 per cent of its global sites to operate on 100 per cent renewable energy.

Solar energy driving sustainability

Owing to the government’s push, India has been experiencing an increase in solar energy adoption. The country has experienced an 8x increase in installed solar capacity du­ring the past six years. Data centre players have also been stepping up the adoption of solar energy. For instance, Nxtra by Airtel has set up two captive solar power units in Uttar Pradesh and one in Maha­rashtra. STT GDC India has signed a solar PPA with Avaada Energy. Capitaland has releas­ed its 2030 Sustainability Master Plan. The draft National Data Centre Policy also provisions the establishment of captive renewable energy power units.

Need for newer solutions

While data centre operators have been focusing on driving solar energy uptake, this will not be enough to attain 100 per cent renewable energy adoption. Newer solutions need to be developed to achieve this target. Further, investments need to be driven to increase renewable energy ad­option. Data centre operators sh­o­uld evaluate all the various sustainable energy options from a technology standpoint. We should not be restricted to solar and wind as green hydrogen is being experimented. For instance, in a particular region, companies were using liquid gas for a particular industrial process and the process was generating enough cooling for them to make sure that they could tie up a data centre next to that. These newer options need to be evaluated as well.

Based on a presentation by Vivek Dahiya, Managing Director, Head-Data Centre Advisory Team, Asia Pacific, Cushman & Wakefield