Harnessing Innovation for a More Sustainable Future

Harnessing Innovation For A More Sustainable Future
The Time for Action on Climate Change is Now. Therefore, It is Essential for All Industries to Step Up and Take Ownership Surrounding Global Emissions

Data centres are the backbone of the digital age, housing the servers and other equipment that power our increasingly interconnected world. They provide the infrastructure that allows us to access websites, send emails, stream movies, and use cloud-based applications. However, these massive facilities come at a significant environmental cost. 

Data centres are among the most energy-intensive buildings on the planet and the energy consumption of these facilities has been on the rise for several years, driven by the rapid growth of data generation and the increasing reliance on digital services. As the demand for cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and other data-intensive applications continues to surge, the energy consumption of data centres is projected to grow even further.

Environmental impact of data centres

The energy consumption of data centres has created a number of environmental impacts. Jo Debecker, Global Head of Wipro FullStride Cloud explains: “Data centres account for nearly 1% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to a growing global climate change issue. Companies in various industries use considerable amounts of water and energy to run and cool their data centres and servers – causing increasing concern around the world, and putting pressure on the grid power available for supporting daily life.”

Globally, climate change is a major issue that demands urgent attention. The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and more intense wildfires pose significant risks to infrastructure, communities, and the economy.

“Climate change issues are at the top of many leader’s agendas,” says Simon Brady, Product Manager at Vertiv. “As a key focus of sustainability initiatives, data centre operators have made significant progress in improving data centre energy efficiency over the last decade, but as digital transformation advances, most recently with AI, capacity growth is working to offset some of those savings in terms of total energy consumed.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that significant advancements in energy efficiency have helped to restrain the expansion of energy consumption from data centres and data transmission networks, which together consume approximately 1-1.5% of global electricity.

“Water availability is also becoming an issue in some areas of the world,” says Brady. “Statista has cautioned that global water demand will reach 4,350 billion cubic meters in terms of withdrawal by 2040. In the last few decades, the growth in water demand has doubled that of population growth.”

Sustainability is not just a buzzword

A number of industries are growing at a rapid pace, however, as they grow, so

does their data centre energy consumption. The urgency of addressing climate change cannot be overstated. With the UK aiming to reduce its carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, it’s clear that every sector, from businesses to households, must step up and take responsibility.

Colin Holyoake, Data Centre Design and Sustainability Manager at IBM says: “The IBM Hursley Data Centre is already making remarkable strides towards carbon neutrality by implementing practices like removing redundant infrastructure, adopting innovative cooling systems, and leveraging AI to optimise performance. The approach has been holistic and systematic. Reevaluating existing infrastructure is crucial, and the industry should prioritise operational efficiency over constructing new buildings.”

“To keep up with rapid accelerated innovation and near-constant industry disruptions,

companies must adapt,” says Debecker. “Modern-day cloud infrastructure handles energy requirements and carbon emissions in a highly sophisticated and efficient manner. In most cases, these providers operate almost fully on renewable energy, and in some cases, the heat generated by the IT systems is ploughed back to power cities, thereby creating 100% zero-carbon emission centres.”

Overcoming the challenges of sustainable energy

In response to these concerns, the data centre industry has embarked on a journey towards greater energy efficiency. Technological advancements, such as more efficient servers, liquid cooling systems, and innovative data centre designs, are helping to reduce the energy footprint of these facilities.

“In recent years, sustainability has been a focus area for the data centre industry, and that aligns with the 2023 emphasis on increased regulation from governments, as well as interest in alternative energy sources,” highlights Brady.

“One of the biggest challenges is the industry’s ability to meet growing demand for capacity vs limited by resources. New technologies, such as AI, are putting huge demands on compute power. But the data centre industry has already made significant progress in improving the efficiency of products, services and operations.”

Brady further goes on to explain that some of the key innovations include thermal management systems – which are the highest energy consumers in the data centre infrastructure space after the servers; new power technologies that leverage renewable energy sources such as fuel cells; intelligent power management with controls that improve the energy usage of equipment; use of recyclable or recycled materials; and use of AI and digital twin technology to reduce waste in the manufacturing process. 

The path to net-zero

The term net-zero represents a vision of a future where our actions no longer contribute to greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere, ensuring a stable climate for generations to come. Debecker explains how Wipro is committed to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2040, in line with the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting a rise in temperature to 1.5°C. 

“60% of the electricity we consume in our campuses is from renewable energy and the water we consume is 37% recycled,” he says. “We are focused on key climate change goals, including carbon mitigation, energy efficiency, participative water management, campus biodiversity, and environmental profit and loss valuation, within and outside Wipro’s ecosystem.”

According to Brady, Vertiv has made steady advancement in its commitment to be a responsible global and corporate citizen, working with experts to help become more sustainable. “We do what we can from sourcing more renewable energy to optimising process and resource use across the value chain - all aimed at minimising our environmental impact globally.”

As the digital world continues to grow, data centres will continue to play an increasingly important role, however, it is crucial to find ways in which to operate these facilities more sustainably. By continuing to invest in energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy sources, the data centre industry can help to reduce its environmental impact and ensure a more sustainable future for the digital age.

“For the industry to move forward and further its sustainable practices, we must overcome the misconception that for a data centre to be more sustainable, we need to build a new one,” explains Holyoake. “Instead, it is important to reevaluate existing infrastructure and implement comprehensive approaches to enhance operational efficiency. Otherwise, we are simply moving an existing issue into a new building.  

“Looking forward, collective industry action, collaboration, and knowledge sharing is required to accelerate progress towards sustainability. Education will continue to play a critical role in promoting responsible data practices, and the industry should continue to share success stories, fostering a sustainable future for generations to come.”

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