Simple ways data centre designers can cut carbon emissions
We hear a lot these days about how the architecture, engineering and construction industry must become green. After all, it accounts for an insane 39% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Often, the solutions presented require mammoth operational and structural shifts: buying carbon credits, creating an industry-wide set of sustainable standards or off-setting with vast reforestation projects. All wonderful ideas, but probably above your pay grade - certainly above ours.
So, what practical steps can today’s architects, technicians and engineers take to help the world’s 4.66bn internet users reduce their carbon footprint? We’re passionate about finding small ways to make a big difference. Here’s our run-down of how data centre designers can reduce embodied and operational carbon emissions.
Reduce the chance of design failures
Carbon is becoming precious and there is no room for mistakes. That’s where BIM comes in. BIM is an industry-standard design methodology for forward-thinking architects, engineers, and technicians. But we think it should be used much more widely. Landscape architects, manufacturers, quantity surveyors and more can leverage this software to make construction more efficient.
An independent 2018 study found that, “BIM will considerably improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the design process”. Less failures means less wasted carbon. And when you consider that failures slap an average of 16% extra on top of the original contract price, and an additional 50% more time … applying BIM could save a few wallets as well as the world.
Get inspired by the building environment
As designers it is our role to work with nature to draw out it’s sustainable benefits. How can we embrace the local climate? What native plants or bee-friendly flowers can effortlessly fill up green walls? How does the shape of the landscape play a role? To reduce carbon, we must integrate and support local ecosystems.
Each location is unique. You don’t need us to tell you that the UK is a bit windy. And while it may not be great for our staycations, this climate supports our data centres’ cooling and energy systems. These currently account for a whopping 43% of their overall carbon emissions, so every effort makes a difference.
Spain, by contrast, is hot and arid, an ideal location for producing solar energy. Spanish company Merlin has been doing exactly that to build its data centres. They’ve recently announced plans to leverage the unique climate and create carbon-neutral water-free data centres in Madrid and Barcelona.
But the winner of the most sustainable data centre surely has to be the Nordic DigiPlex who redirect excess energy from data centres to heat 5,000 apartments in Oslo. These designers took advantage of the unique environment to give something back.
So how can we do the same? Again, we’ve found BIM to be an effective tool for building up information about a site location, but it’s not the only method. Talk to scientists, visit the sites, do your research. Site-by-site, we can create bespoke data centres that truly make the world a better place.
Plan beyond the handover
When it comes to operational carbon – the emissions the building will continue to pump out throughout its lifecycle – data centres have some serious work to do. They are hot houses of power, using up more than 3.2% of the world’s carbon emissions and consuming vast quantities of water. Today 41% of the population don’t have access to the internet, but tomorrow that will surely change. And given 90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years alone, emissions are about to rocket.
One way for designers to get ahead of the game is by applying a soft landing strategy for their buildings which focuses on the environment.
Soft landing strategies are usually used to ensure that the journey from construction to operation is as glitch-free as possible. It’s like a digital dress-rehearsal before the main event. But carbon-conscious designers go one step further. They can set ambitious environmental targets and use soft landing to see how the building will measure up over time. For example, designers could foresee the impact of maintenance or development. Or prepare for huge increases in the amount of data being processed. Soft landing approaches means designers have more time to plan, adapt and future-proof the data centres against longer-term carbon emissions.
Carbon footprint tracking
We’re not really here to talk about regulations, but it’s no secret that plans to standardise carbon reporting are coming. Firstly, in the EU. As part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission are already trialling a pilot scheme for the construction industry. Then, across the pond, we’d expect to see more regulations in the US. Spurred on by the devastating wildfires which ripped through the state last year, California is introducing strict carbon emission rules for new builds.
All in all, it’s a good idea for us designers to start tracking the carbon footprint of our buildings now, before it becomes obligatory. Getting ahead of the curve means that we can be proactive and make better strategies. We do have the tools to include these parameters in our projects. Keeping hold of all the updated information on carbon emissions and potential emissions in one place is critical.
We all have a part to play
Speaking of critical… That’s the architectural sector that data centres fall into. Or Mission Critical (MC) to be precise. Mission Critical facilities like data centres, hospitals, military installations, and utility command centres come under this category because it's essential to get them right. Essential for people, and now… essential for the planet.
Each of us has a part to play in achieving this, especially the designers. We hope that these simple steps and suggestions help to inspire innovation. Together, bit by bit, (or should we say, byte by byte) we can reduce the impact of the 2.5 quintillion bytes used by humans every day. Together, we can design a greener future.
Principal Architectural Technician at Stephen George + Partners who designs and models data centres. Hannah Duncan is Freelance Writer at Hannah Duncan Investment Content Ltd who focuses on the technology and fintech sectors.
DEWA, Huawei to build Dubai’s largest green data centre
Moro Hub, a subsidiary of the digital arm of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), signed an agreement with Chinese tech giant Huawei over the weekend to build a new hyperscale data centre in the city. Taking advantage of an abundance of solar power available in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the new facility will be 100% powered by renewable electricity generated by photovoltaic infrastructure located within the Emirates.
With the potential to reach a capacity of 100 MW upon full buildout, the facility is set to become the largest solar-powered, Uptime Institute Tier III-certified green data centre in the Middle East and Africa.
The project is part of the Dubai 10x initiative launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and will support the Emirate’s goal of developing into “a city of the future, putting it 10 years ahead of other global cities,” according to Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, MD & CEO of the DEWA.
The signing event, attended by HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, MD & CEO of DEWA, and Mr Charles Yang, President of Huawei Middle East, and signed by Marwan Bin Haidar, Vice Chairman and Group CEO Digital DEWA and Mr Jerry Liu, CEO of Huawei UAE - Courtesy of DEWA
Al Tayer added that the project, “meets our ambition to deliver sustainable digital transformation and anticipate and shape the future,” and “supports the UAE Centennial 2071 to make the UAE the world's leading nation and the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030.”
The facility will, according to Al Tayer, also support Dubai’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions by 16% before the end of the year, as well as its goal of meeting 75% of the city’s power demands with clean energy by 2050, and “significantly aids DEWA’s progress towards sustainable development.”
Moro Hub already operates one green data centre in the Emirate, which came online in October of 2020. The facility was the first Tier-III green data centre to come online in the Middle East.
Charles Yang, President of Huawei Middle East, was also present at the signing ceremony held on Saturday. He commented that the new association between Huawei and the DEWA, “allows us to strengthen our partnership with Moro Hub and take part in fortifying the UAE's sustainable development goals.”