Data Center Sustainability: Back to the Basics

Every watt counts as data center companies aim to minimize energy usage as demand continues to rise.

Company sustainability goals as well as public policy changes, such as data centers in the EU aiming for carbon neutrality by 2030, will drive a lot of sustainability gains over the next decade. Though there is a lot of work to be done to reach a more sustainable future, it’s promising that as internet traffic and data center workloads increase at tremendous rates, data center energy consumption has remained relatively flat. Data center companies are leading the way in sustainability goals and reducing their impact on the environment dramatically. Many data centers are matching their energy usage with renewable energy generation and making commitments like Microsoft’s to be carbon negative by 2030.

These companies are even joining forces to create a bigger impact on the sustainable future for society. Infrastructure Masons, an independent forum for infrastructure professionals to connect, grow and give back, set out to align the data center industry on a future vision where “every click improves the future”. Executives from the top tier data center infrastructure organizations, including ABB, put together a five-part sustainability vision at their 2020 member summit on Earth Day. This vision involves unifying the industry to define the framework and driving sustainability through combined purchasing power, and state of the art innovation.

As these standards are being developed, ABB is providing industry-leading insight on current sustainability trends and innovative technologies within the data center space. ABB’s Data Center Sustainability Series: Every Watt Counts discusses strategies for making incremental improvements to data center operations to meet sustainability goals. To kick off the series, I hosted a webinar on getting back to basics to understand data center efficiency and how to improve it. We consider three main pillars of data center sustainability: responsible sourcing, efficient consumption, and lifecycle responsibility.

Responsible sourcing often means leveraging renewables, primarily done through power purchase agreements (PPA), but data centers are also becoming a more active participant in the grid as well. With the incorporation of renewables in the data center industry, utilities need to offset the impact of adding those variable forms of power to the grid. As the energy demand becomes more dynamic it also becomes more challenging to manage; this impacts grid stability. Though it presents new challenges, advances in battery technology, smart grid functionalities and new business models will provide a path forward to incorporate more sustainable energy into the data center industry.

An example of efficient consumption is the evolution of data center topologies. Availability and reliability are essential for the data center, which means levels of redundancy are required to fully support the critical loads in case of outages or other emergencies. However, having too much redundant equipment is neither cost effective nor sustainable. Data center infrastructure design is an important place to start driving efficient energy consumption and sustainability within the data center. More innovative designs, such as shared redundant or block redundant involve less redundancy while still maintaining high levels of availability, making them more sustainable.

Lifecycle responsibility is an emerging topic for traditional infrastructure. With advances in both interoperability of systems and the onboard intelligence of the devices themselves, we can now implement strategies for asset management, predictive maintenance and end of product life decisions to better advance the goal of a true circular economy.

These are just three examples of how data centers are employing new strategies to improve their efficiencies. Watch this webinar on demand to learn more about the basics of critical power, and what factors to consider in determining the strategic balance of sustainability and availability of a critical power system.  This webinar is part of the Data Center Sustainability Series presented by ABB.

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About the author

Dave Sterlace

Dave Sterlace is the Head of Technology for Data Center Solutions at ABB, and has 20+ years of experience in data center power, automation and critical power.
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