In today’s data-obsessed world where we can expect to see 175 zettabytes of data by 2025, the demand for data centers is only going to increase. That’s good news for the people and enterprises that rely on data being fast and always available, but it’s bad news for the environment. Data centers are notorious power hogs, using up to 1 percent of the world’s electricity, and the processes used to construct them generate tons of waste, debris and emissions every year.
In the interest of averting a giant ecological mess later, now is the best time to proactively ask the question: Is there a way to mitigate the environmental impacts of data centers, while still providing the storage capacity and computing power needed to handle the wave of data that’s heading this way?
While the industry continues to find and implement new ways to answer this pressing question, it is important to note the actual construction of the data center plays a part in its environmental impact. This makes it imperative for organizations to explore several areas of their build processes, as at least part of the environmental solution lies with which construction process is chosen to build and deploy a mission critical data center.
Traditional construction is messy in basically every way, and data center construction is no different. However, modular data centers offer a cleaner alternative to on-site construction, with fewer negative impacts on the environment.
Why are modular data centers more environmentally friendly than stick-built data centers?
We’re hearing a lot in the industry about reducing carbon footprints by focusing on Scope 3 emissions. In fact, Microsoft even announced an initiative to become carbon negative by 2030. By 2050, the company plans to eliminate enough carbon from the environment to equal all of its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions dating back to 1975.
But what do we mean when we talk about Scope X emissions, and what does that mean for data center construction?
Scientists classify carbon emissions by category:
- Scope 1 emissions: Direct emissions generated by your business activities, e.g., exhaust from delivery trucks, generators, smokestacks, and so on
- Scope 2 emissions: Indirect emissions from producing the power or fuel used to run your business
- Scope 3 emissions: Indirect emissions generated during every part of the supply chain, which are used to support your business, e.g., manufacturing office computers, business travel, coffee delivery, and so on
Scope 3 emissions are far more expansive than Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, and this is the environmental differentiator between traditional data center and modular data center construction.
Drilling down a bit into the specific environmental impacts of modular versus stick-built data centers, there are a few key areas to focus on:
Modular data centers are more energy-efficient than stick-built data centers because they are more compact. Less space means less energy is required for cooling, and the components used to build modular data centers are designed to optimize performance, including minimizing energy consumption.
Traditional data center construction has to plan for 100 percent capacity on day one. But if you build a data center with more capacity than it needs at that point in time, you end up paying for heating, cooling, electricity, and so on for the unused space.
Modular data centers offer scalable capacity, so you can easily add or remove capacity as storage and computing needs change.
Modular data centers are built in a factory, according to time-tested manufacturing best practices. These streamlined processes eliminate much of the waste associated with traditional construction, including unused components, any materials that are unusable after resolving errors and general construction site debris.
Before you start building a data center, it’s important to think through each stage of the life cycle, especially end of life. Stick-built data centers aren’t designed with reusability in mind, so unused components and scraps, due to field construction, end up in the landfill.
Modular data centers, on the other hand, are highly incentivized through the manufacturing process to reuse and recycle materials to improve efficiency.
Compact modular data centers generate fewer carbon emissions than their stick-built counterparts because they are designed with energy efficiency in mind.
As mentioned above, the smaller footprint means there is a smaller space to cool and airflow is optimized. Modular data centers often take advantage of the latest green building technology to maximize energy efficiency, which also contributes to reducing emissions.
How can building modular data centers reduce the negative impact of construction on the environment?
Traditional data center builds generate a huge amount of Scope 3 emissions at every step in the process. Everything—from employees driving onto the site, the heavy machinery being used, and construction waste removal—increases the project's carbon footprint.
Modular data centers, however, are custom built in a factory, so there are fewer materials to transport and there’s no need to outfit a temporary worksite. This reduces traffic to and from the construction site, as well as many sources of indirect emissions.
Exponential growth in worldwide data consumption is fueling demand for data centers. Left unchecked, this explosion in construction could have serious implications for global environmental health.
PCX understands the importance of building data centers responsibly and sustainably. We utilize the latest energy-efficient technology to design data centers that meet the needs of our clients, while also minimizing carbon emissions. We also employ alternative power sources when possible, to reduce dependencies on fossil fuels.
To learn more about how modular data centers can positively impact your construction process, check The Complete Guide to Modular Data Centers today!