The data center industry is increasingly looking for ways to become more eco-friendly. This involves a hard look at every aspect of infrastructure and operations across the full data center lifecycle to find opportunities for greater efficiency and sustainability. When it comes to Scopes 1 and 2 carbon emissions, data centers must consider the emissions directly produced as a result of their operations and their power sourcing choices.
Why is the data center industry going green?
The business world, in general, has been confronted with environmental issues such as climate change and sustainability of resources. The data center industry, in particular, has been focusing on going green to continue powering the world’s computing demands while lessening negative environmental impact.
This focus is warranted by the major environmental impact data centers have by default. In 2021, data centers were found to be responsible for 2 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions—the equivalent of the entire global airline industry.
Some hyperscale data center owners, including tech giants such as Google, have publicly shared goals to become more eco-friendly, spurring others on to match pace and demonstrate to end users that they’re making an effort toward sustainability.
How do data centers approach sustainability?
Any company seeking to keep track of its carbon emissions should understand the three categories established by the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol. Sustainability-conscious data centers today are paying attention to how they’re doing in all three of the following areas:
- Scope 1 is focused on the direct emissions that result from data centers’ operations, including their use of electricity for cooling, running IT equipment and so on. Initiatives to make a facility operate more efficiently will reduce Scope 1 emissions.
- Scope 2 is focused on less direct emissions that nevertheless play an important role in a data center’s environmental impact—namely, the emissions produced in creating the utilities used in their operations. The more power data centers purchase from the grid that is generated by energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro, the more they reduce their Scope 2 emissions.
- Scope 3 includes all indirect environmental impacts that data centers have, including their supply chain, manufacturing processes, usage of raw materials, logistics, recyclability of components and so forth. This area is inclusive across the full lifecycle of the data center, from construction through operations and decommissioning.
Scope 1: Enhancing Efficiency in the Data Center
When it comes to Scope 1, there are essential steps all data centers should take to minimize their emissions and environmental footprint.
Efficiency within Scope 1 starts with the design of your facility. Efficiency should inform choices such as where you locate your facility due to the effect climate can have on power-intensive cooling requirements. Layout and equipment selection are equally important and must be chosen so that airflow and cooling methodology are optimal for the power density and space requirements of the IT equipment.
Modular data centers are a great solution for achieving a smaller environmental footprint for your IT requirements. These prefabricated data centers are designed for efficiency. Their scalability enables the owner to deploy and operate only the infrastructure needed at any given time, reducing stranded power that can result while waiting for the IT requirements to grow into the full capacity of the facility. Additional capacity can be quickly deployed at any time to right-size IT demand with facility capacity as business needs grow.
Cooling constitutes a large portion of a data center’s power usage, so efficient cooling is a must for reducing Scope 1 emissions. When practical for the business, some companies choose to build their data centers in mild climates that come with lower cooling demands. When outside temperatures are low, data centers can take advantage of some level of free cooling to either cool the ambient air in their facility or to aid in a chilled water system.
Still, servers dissipate a significant amount of heat, and you need a solution—aligned with the IT requirements—that ensures sufficient cooling and proper operation, and optimizes the amount of energy needed to keep the IT equipment cool.
For data centers with lower density requirements, in-row cooling is a good option since it keeps the source of cooling close to the IT equipment and prevents hot and cold air from mixing to enhance efficiency. As density goes up, in-row cooling requires a partition across the tops of racks in order to keep cool and warm air segregated.
For higher densities, rear door rack heat exchangers and direct-to-chip methods are relatively efficient options to consider. One of the most efficient cooling options is immersion cooling, which uses 5-20 percent less power than air cooling. Immersion cooling is most often found in hyperscale or high-performance computing contexts.
Your IT infrastructure should also be optimized for efficiency. Most data centers are already placing a high priority on this initiative—and for good reason. Upgrading old hardware to newer, more efficient equipment will help you keep Scope 1 emissions and utility costs low.
According to Andrew Moloney, vice president of strategy at enterprise storage vendor SoftIron, the ideal is sticking to IT hardware that is optimized for the specific task it’s intended for. This right-sizing “could reduce the power consumption of key data center IT hardware by up to 80 percent.”
One way to ensure IT infrastructure is running at high utilization is to design applications to run on microservices and in containers. This option is inherently more efficient than monolithic legacy applications since you gain the flexibility to pinpoint the precise services you need to scale or update as needed rather than duplicating and scaling entire applications.
Your electrical infrastructure is another key area where you can keep Scope 1 emissions to a minimum. One major step is choosing an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that is energy-efficient. Advancements such as insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) technology, flywheel energy storage and more are allowing for more efficient and effective UPS systems on the market today. (Keep in mind that various technologies also present their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to key factors beyond efficiency that are worthy of consideration, such as functionality and reliability.)
Many systems also feature an eco mode for lower power consumption, though you should ensure this mode won’t detract from the functionality you need out of your UPS before engaging it. Typically, eco mode puts a UPS system in standby, making it take longer for the system to detect a failure and come online.
More energy-efficient UPS systems also benefit you financially. According to the EPA, “An ENERGY STAR certified UPS can cut energy losses by 30-55 percent when compared to a standard UPS system.” These savings can add up substantially.
Scope 2: Choosing More Sustainable Power Sourcing
When it comes to Scope 2 emission reduction, some data centers are moving to greener sources of energy, turning to renewable energy such as wind and solar power. When building a new data center, companies can take the local power grid into account as they choose a location, prioritizing locations with access to cleaner energy sources.
Some hyperscalers have entered into power purchase agreements (PPAs) with utilities for renewable power. For example, in 2021, Amazon entered into a PPA with Lightsource bp for a 375 MWdc solar project in Ohio, where it has established a data center hub.
Moving to completely renewable energy isn’t a realistic option right now for many data centers since they’re dependent on their local power grid, but some can take alternate steps toward sustainability by switching generators from diesel to natural gas, for example.
Data centers embrace innovation.
The data center industry is embracing innovative solutions to lower emissions and minimize the impact of their power consumption on the environment. This includes taking critical steps in line with Scopes 1 and 2 to ensure data centers are minimizing both direct and indirect emissions associated with their operations.
Want to learn more about the state of data centers and the trends that are shaping the industry going forward? Check out The State of the Data Center Industry Post-Pandemic.