Japan’s data centres go green
The Japanese government has announced it will subsidise 50% of the building costs towards new zero carbon-emissions data centres, and upgrades of existing facilities as part of a new $7.3bn initiative to innovate the industry and cut carbon emissions.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga plans to set a target for the country to hit carbon neutrality by 2050. The move brings Japan in line with the EU and 60 other global nations in their bid to prevent the global average temperatures from rising by 1.5 Celsius.
To reduce carbon-emissions and the amount of energy used by data centre, which is mainly required to maintain server-happy temperatures, Japan is planning to build more new facilities in its colder regions. The move comes as many multinational companies including Google, Apple, AWS and Facebook construct data centres in the Nordics, where cooling systems utilise the glacial environment and ice-cold water supplies.
Using natural environmental temperatures to cool data centres is not only eco-friendly but substantially cheaper. According to a report by , up to 55% of data centre, energy consumption is used to run cooling and ventilation systems. Traditionally these are giant, compression-based units that run constantly as the servers omit excessive heat. Using the naturally cold air to maintain lower temperature levels, reduces the need for compression air conditioning equipment.
Reports suggest that as well as hoping to attract more foreign investment to the region, Japan has been forced to increase its data centre capacity because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An uptick in the number of Zoom calls, video streaming from entertainment platforms and the digital transformation of businesses, has seen Global web traffic increase by 48% in 2020.
, Deputy Director at the Environment Ministry’s Global Environment Bureau, explained, “Lifestyle changes driven by the coronavirus have resulted in a surge in power use. We have to address the issue of data centres, one of the major energy consumers.”
He explained that data centres were responsible for an estimated 1% of global electricity use in 2019, which is why Japanese companies are seeking an alternative solution.
DataDock Inc., a Japanese data centre provider based in Niigata Prefecture, has a data centre in the city of Nagaoka, 174 miles north of Tokyo which has an average temperature of 12 Celsius from February to December. The facility is cooled with melted snow water and the cold external air.
Even further north in the city of Ishikari in Hokkaido, which enjoys winter temperatures of 5 Celsius, a data centre run by Sakura Internet Inc can be fully operational, without air conditioning back-up, from October to May.
However, though operating costs and emissions are lowered, latency in services can be a consequence of locating data centres in remote, colder areas. But despite this, Japanese companies are enthusiastic and are even planning to harness server-generated heat, diverting it to help local communities instead.
And with the advent of 5G, AI, virtual reality and increasing demands for digital capacity from businesses, the data centre industry globally will continue to grow. Digital energy analyst for the International Energy Agency, , added that energy-efficient technology “will be needed to keep pace with growing data demand.”
NUS and NTU launch cooling project for tropical data centres
The National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), have announced a project in an attempt to source and develop new cooling solutions for data centres located in tropical areas. According to the companies, the programme costs S$23mn (US$17.1mn) and plans to research, build and test innovative and sustainable cooling solutions.
The Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT)
The NUS and NTU say that the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT) will act as a research point and innovation hub for the project. Facebook, along with the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF), is also involved, providing funding for the programme. Further support from other partners includes the Infocomm Media Development Authority, Ascenix, CoolestDC Keppel Data Centres, Red Dot Analytics, and New Media Express.
Commenting on working with the companies, Facebook Vice President of Infrastructure, Alex Johnson, said: “We are excited about the opportunity to partner NUS, NTU, Keppel Data Centres and the CoolestSG community to develop innovative solutions that reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption of the average data centre, particularly those located in tropical areas like Singapore”.
The NTU and NUS highlight that Singapore houses 60% of Southeast Asia’s total data centre market, and aims to supply 12% of the country’s total energy needs by 2030. This results in the need to reduce the carbon footprints and power consumption of data centres, meaning more innovative cooling solutions are required, the NTU and NUS said.
Professor Chen Thuan, Deputy President of Research & Technology at the NUS, said: “Data centres are a critical enabler of the digital economy, but the average data centre can exert a significant environmental burden. Aligned with RIE 2025, sustainability is a key research focus of NUS, and our researchers have deep expertise in developing integrated solutions for tropical, urban and Asian settings”.
How will the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT) help to provide cooling solutions?
According to the NUS and NTU, the STDCT will be built using equipment such as a novel desiccant-coated heat exchanger and a StatePoint Liquid Cooling System (SPLC) designed by both Nortek Air Solutions and Facebook. The institutions also say they will adopt chip-level hybrid cooling to ensure servers remain cool.
Furthermore, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) will aim to manage the “smart operations” of the technologies so that the data centres are water and power efficient, as well as able to preserve equipment and servers.
The NTU and NSU said in a joint statement the combination of the cooling technologies could reduce energy consumption “significantly” and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25%, compared to traditional air-cooled data centres. If adopted industry-wide across the entire tropical region, the energy usage of the data centre industry could potentially be lowered by at least 40%”, the companies said.
The STDCT is expected to be operational by 1 October 2021.