By Sudipta Sanyal, Principal Architect – Data Centers Services, Aurionpro Solutions
Over the last few decades, the rapid pace of digital transformation has made data centers an indispensable integral part in Information Technology (IT), powering a data-driven economic landscape. However, being high energy intensive infrastructure, it is estimated presently that data centers alone account for around 1% of global electricity consumption with possibility of further increasing in future.
While the climate crisis worsens and the drive for sustainability becomes critical for the health of the planet, the need for ‘green’ data centers becomes urgent and essential. In order to make data centers more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint, there is a need to shift to increasing use of renewable energy, draw up energy-efficient designs, and optimise the consumption, judicious use of natural resources and use of material with less embodied carbon footprint among other initiatives.
Renewable Energy – Challenges and Solutions
The use of renewable energy is one of key aspect of bringing sustainability to data center operations. A survey by S&P Global Market Intelligence reported that 50% of the respondents highlighted the use of renewable energy as a greener alternative to the current load of data center energy consumption. As initiatives towards sustainability gain momentum, data center operators across borders are investing in renewable energy options like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power.
While these investments are a step in the right direction, the availability of renewable energy can be quite inconsistent, posing challenges for data centers as well as electric grids. While innovations are being worked on to address these issues and minimise risks, developing countries like India also have the option of harnessing nuclear power. Nuclear power is a reliable source of clean energy and has a minimal carbon footprint, making it a great green alternative.
The increasing use of distributed modular data centers architecture by data center users in future shall also enhance the scope to accommodate renewable energy in places with the limited grid power. This would also increase the flexibility and efficiency of data centers with optimum use of infrastructures even while using renewable energy sources.
Enhancing Efficiency through Design and Processes
While data centers require energy intensive infrastructures, optimising processes and hardware designs could increase the efficiency and efficacy produced with the same amount of energy. Cooling systems are an essential part of a data center physical infrastructure and can use take up to 40% of the total energy consumption. Options like liquid cooling and AI-assisted cooling can reduce that percentage without reducing reliability and resiliency of the systems. Liquid cooling is a highly effective and energy-efficient alternative to air cooling. According to Gartner, liquid cooling can even be up to 3000 times more effective as it cools the IT infrastructures directly instead of cooling the entire space- which consumes more power. AI-assisted cooling is another alternative being explored, which would rely on real-time data from sensors to cool the systems as needed with continuous modulation and optimum use of energy. This would also help understand trends of cooling requirement in the data centers so the AI can predict and proactively control the cooling system. AI shall also help in predictive maintenance with optimum use of inventory and enhancing the lifetime.
Managing e-waste and minimising waste production is another focal point in working towards sustainability. Liquid cooling proves useful even in e-waste management as air cooling equipment require much larger electrical infrastructures creating more e-waste down the line. Aside from this, data centers need to have IT asset management systems that prioritise responsible e-waste management as well as recycling practices.
Switching to green-certified products such as eco-friendly refrigerants and fire-suppression systems, using fuel cells in the place of diesel generators and lithium-ion batteries in the place of lead-acid batteries are all additional efforts towards increased sustainability.
Long-Term Cost Benefits of Sustainability
Implementation of sustainability and green alternatives in data center infrastructure may require increase in upfront costs. However considering long-term benefits and life cycle cost, sustainable alternatives in data centers provide great returns on investment. The cost of running a data center throughout its life cycle can be 3-5 times as much as the capital costs. Green alternatives focus on increasing efficiency by reducing energy consumption and operational resulting faster ROI.
Thus, sustainability, over time saves not only energy and resources but is also the fiscally responsible alternative in the long run.
Efforts towards a Greener Future
As the demand for data-driven operations increases, there will be a concurrent growth in the number of data centers. With an increasing number of green data center in operations, seeing the result behind green initiatives, green data centers will soon become the norm of the Industry leaders like Google and Facebook are choosing sustainability with commitments to make 75% of data center energy consumption carbon-free and running on renewable energy by 2025 and completely climate neutral by 2030.
Closer home, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has been proactive in its efforts toward sustainability and committed to developing best practices and standards for energy efficiency for over a decade. As we move ahead, it is evident that sustainability is not only financially and environmentally beneficial but also positions brands as responsible, and environmentally conscious to their customers and stakeholders.