Innovative use of renewable energy can boost smaller data center sustainability, advises Green Grid

by Brianna Crandall — March 10, 2017 — Smaller data center providers should follow in the footsteps of the large hyperscalers in adopting renewable energy sources to power the data center rather than relying solely on unsustainable fossil fuel energies, advised The Green Grid, the global authority on resource efficiency across the information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem, in a recent statement.

Roel Castelein, customer services director of The Green Grid, argues that more innovative approaches to renewable energy will be useful towards reducing carbon emissions across the data center industry. Roel said:

While fossil fuels have traditionally been an effective resource in powering the data center, it is essentially a finite resource, while also being a significant contributor towards rising carbon emissions experienced in the industry. According to a white paper from Digital Realty, by 2020, data centers are projected to consume electricity equivalent to the output from 50 large coal-fired power plants — and that’s just in the U.S. alone.

This goes to show the amount of power required to support data centers, but with limited supplies, alternative power through renewable energy will clearly be the most sustainable solution. Data center operators have already placed large emphasis on using natural resources to cool IT infrastructure such as free air cooling, and this same mindset should exist when considering how the data center should be powered.

However, there has been a growing amount of support for renewable energy in the past year from the hyperscalers, notes The Green Grid. Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that it will hit the halfway mark on its commitment of having all of its sites powered by renewable energy sources by the end of 2017, while Google claimed that its entire data center fleet will be entirely powered by wind and solar energy from 2017.

But while larger organizations have had the resources and scalability to factor in more natural resources, Roel claims smaller data centers will need to be innovative in their approach to using renewable energy:

The example set by companies such as Google and AWS is important in our understanding that renewable energy provides a viable solution in tackling the sustainability issue, especially with the vast amounts of data exchanges happening in today’s technology climate. Many of the larger players have capitalized on building their sites in locations that have the most renewable avenues available to them, or in the case of Google, who have managed to develop and sustain long-term contracts with energy suppliers to guarantee a constant supply of energy, while also minimizing the costs involved.

However, renewable sources may not be completely attainable for all data centers due to a lack direct contact with renewable suppliers, unpredictable weather conditions and even limited budgets. Rather than seeing renewable energy as a primary source of power, some facilities may find it more beneficial to use renewable energy as a secondary source to help power, while keeping costs to a minimum, and most importantly, limiting the amount of fossil fuels used throughout the industry.

The government could additionally serve as a support arm for facilitating the adoption of renewable energy by bringing together energy suppliers with data center operators. Combining this with fiscal incentives can help guarantee that organizations incorporate some form of renewable energy and in the process push for long-term contracts with energy suppliers. This will help create a portfolio of partners and help lead to more progressive goals towards a sustainable and green data center industry.