How can data centres reduce their environmental footprints

With much of the data stored, managed, and distributed by data centres, and the fact that they require a tremendous amount of resources to operate, it is important to assess their environmental footprints.

This is also in recognition that data centres have been and will continue to play a big role in the global digital transformation process. Conventional estimates have it that the data centres account for 1-2% of the global electricity demand, with this expected to rise in the next five years as the requirement for data storage services increases. It is not just the energy requirements that have the policymakers and environmentalists worried. In the wake of increased demand for cloud computing, data centres also require huge amounts of other resources including water. Water is used directly for cooling purposes as well as indirectly in the production of renewable energy.

Pressure on already stressed resources
A recent article published by IOP saw for the first time calculation of the carbon and water footprints of data centres in the United States being made. The study found that twenty per cent of the data centre water footprints are sourced from stressed watersheds while power comes from water-stressed regions. Failure to assess and address the environmental footprints of data centres may put more pressure on resources that are already strained. Efforts should be geared towards reducing the environmental footprints of data centres. Here are two resolutions that can help with this.

Integrating solutions at the design stage
With computing equipment generating excessive heat, there is a huge requirement for cooling resources. Estimates put the amount of power consumption needed for cooling purposes at 50% of the total energy used in data centres. To reduce power usage, expert advises on the integration of solutions at the design stage.

  1. Thermal containment is one of the suggested design modifications allowing even distribution of temperatures. Here, outside air is used to cool the computer rooms directly. The solution is known to improve power usage effectiveness leading to a reduction in the amount of energy required to cool equipment in a data centre.
  2. Liquid immersion cooling is another suggested design. Apart from vast physical footprint and noise reductions, this technology uses dielectric biodegradable liquid to cool the server components removing completely the need for any room cooling. There is minimal water usage too. This type of data centre cooling utilise closed-loop water systems. PUE of  1.01 is a realistic figure. 

Regular monitoring of performance
Already, there are set procedures and standards that data centres can follow to ensure they reduce their footprint on the environment. Compliance with these procedures gives data centres a starting point where they constantly monitor their performance and make improvements and follow-ups. Monitoring of the indicators is an essential activity that gives a pointer on whether the data centres are meeting the requirements and also indicates areas that need to be improved.

In the next five years, the demand for data centre services is expected to rise; with this, the power consumption is expected to have multiplied by 2.9 while the greenhouse gas emission will have risen by 3.1. The whole data centre industry needs to do everything possible to ensure that it limits and controls the projected increases through the adoption of these resolutions.


how to reduce data centre environmental footprints