Sustainable data centre: meeting net zero carbon

As our demand for data continues to increase, the data centre industry is expanding at a staggering rate. These centres are the backbone to much of our economic, commercial and social lives. They are also some of the world’s biggest consumers of power.  

 

As countries around the world pledge their commitment to carbon neutrality, or net zero carbon, environmental regulations are fast evolving; and simultaneously, ESG is pushing up the corporate agenda. The sector is responding, with many global cloud and data centre operators, as well as smaller national providers, committed to becoming climate neutral by 2030.

The challenge: data centres are energy and resource intensive

It’s no secret that data centres are energy intensive. Various estimates have placed data centres as accounting for 2% of the world’s energy consumption –roughly equivalent to the aviation industry. And while big strides have been made, designing, developing and operating sustainable data centres remains one of the biggest challenges facing developers, co-location operators, global cloud computing providers and hyperscalers alike.

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What is a net zero carbon data centre?

The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact requires the following: 

Increase and measure energy efficiency 

Data centres and server rooms must meet a high standard for energy efficiency, demonstrated through aggressive power use effectiveness (PUE) targets. For European operators committed to the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact this has been specified as an annual PUE target of 1.3 for new data centres operating at full capacity in cool climates by 2025, and 1.4 in warm climates. Existing data centres will achieve these same targets by January 1, 2030. 

Clean energy 

Carbon neutral data centres should be powered by 100% renewable energy. The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact states that data centre electricity demand will be matched by 75% renewable energy or hourly carbon-free energy by December 31, 2025 and 100% by December 31, 2030. 

Water efficiency 

Data centres rely on vast amounts of water for computer cooling. But for a data centre to be sustainable it must reduce this to minimum levels by targeting ambitious water conservation targets. The water metric target - water usage effectiveness (WUE) or other water conservation metric - may vary depending on the data centre design specification. 

A circular economy  

Data centre operators must apply circular economy practices to repair and recycle servers, as well as reusing waste heat where possible. 

Circular energy system 

The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact highlights the energy conservation opportunity presented for the reuse of data centre heat. Data centre operators can explore possibilities to interconnect with district heating systems and other users of heat in a way that is practical, environmentally sound and cost effective. 

How to achieve a sustainable data centre

The transition to a net zero carbon industry requires a shift in the way data infrastructure is planned, designed and built.  

Our Net Zero Carbon design approach sets out a project pathway to embed best practice sustainable design principles into each project stage. Tackling the building design, materials, engineering solutions, construction and operation, we can guide you to deliver a truly whole life net zero project; or more simply to embed sustainable principles and technology to achieve energy and resource efficiencies in line with your commercial objectives. 

Seven stage framework to design for net zero buildings and infrastructure

How can we help?

Working in partnership, we can support you right from project inception; from clarifying regulations, defining targets and steering you through the planning process, to identifying and mitigating environmental impacts such as air quality, addressing biodiversity net gain, through to cost effective and pragmatic advice for design and operation.

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