The Plane Truth About Environmental/Data Center Sustainability

Submitted by Peter Poulin, Chief Executive Officer, GRC
On: June 15, 2020 Comments: 0
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Concerns about global warming and environmental sustainability have moved to the forefront of boardroom and conference room conversations around the world. It has certainly become a hot topic in air travel and data centers.

Interestingly, while there’s widespread green shaming of the airlines for being prime polluters, data centers are now approaching the carbon footprint of our high-flying counterparts.

Carbon Copies:
Airlines and Data Centers Are Twin Energy Hogs

Globally, airlines contribute around 2% of all anthropogenic (human-caused) carbon pollution.1 Data centers are right up there with them, consuming about 3% of the global electric supply, and dumping hundreds of millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year.2

This trend is sure to accelerate. In fact, several models suggest that data center energy usage could easily consume up to 10% of the global electricity supply in the next decade. It would be one thing if all those electrons were generated from wind or solar farms. But in reality, over 60% of the world’s electricity is still produced using fossil fuels.3

Digital Demands Are Soaring

This increasing dependency on everyday digital tools is likely to bring unintended consequences, and a not-insignificant environmental impact. The burgeoning internet of things, artificial intelligence, streaming entertainment, edge deployments, the launch of 5G mobile networks, along with the advent of more powerful (and power-hungry) CPUs and GPUs, are all destined to drive data center electrical usage significantly higher.

What’s more, according to the global marketing intelligence firm IDC, 152,000 new devices will be connecting to the Internet every minute by 2025, bringing the total to 80 billion worldwide.4 That’s a lot of data flying and flowing through data centers.

Reasons for Optimism

Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope in the quest to reduce global carbon pollution.

Where the airlines are concerned, 2020 became a game-changer of the highest order. If there’s a glimmer of positivity about the COVID-19 outbreak it could be this: the world is starting to recognize that a lot of air travel is unnecessary; that through the use of technology we can still stay connected, and get much of our work done without the environmental impact of jetting all over the globe.

Data centers also have the time and means to get ahead of the carbon curve through two main modes of attack: power-generation and powerconsumption.

On the power generation side, for example, more than 20 of the largest Internet companies – including Facebook, Google and Apple – have committed to powering their digital infrastructure with 100% renewable electricity. As a result, over 10 gigawatts of renewable energy has already been deployed worldwide.5

Where power consumption is concerned, there are many things operators can do, and are doing, to green up their data centers. Installing more energyefficient UPSs, servers and PDUs (power distribution units) is a good start. However, since upwards of 40% of a data center’s energy consumption goes into cooling alone, this is a much more productive focus for improvement.6

Immersion Cooling Can Clear the Air

Most recently, key technologies have matured that significantly reduce the amount of energy required to deliver a unit of compute, make an artificial intelligence decision, safeguard your home from porch pirates, or stream a scene from Game of Thrones.

For example, an oil services enterprise has realized a 40% energy savings over air cooling by implementing immersion cooling in their data center.

This breakthrough technology has also been endorsed by IT giants like Intel® and the NSA, and is at work within some of the world’s largest cloud, enterprise, education, government, high-frequency trading (HFT), and telecom organizations

Data Centers Can Lead the
Environmental Sustainability Charge

As more renewable energy sources come online, and technologies like immersion cooling become more broadly adopted, I believe the data center industry will continue expanding its commitment to a more sustainable planet. Raising awareness and urgency of this issue will help sustain the progress that’s being made.

Legislation that mandates energy efficiency goals, much like carbon reduction measures enforced in other industries, could further accelerate data centers toward a carbon-neutral state. Encouragingly, following the 2015 Paris Agreement, in countries around the world 99% of territorial greenhouse gas emissions are now covered under pledges known as “intended nationally determined contributions” or INDCs.

Nevertheless, at the risk of being pessimistic, it’s sobering to realize that global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels hit a record high in 2019.

A pioneer of single-phase immersion cooling since 2009, GRC (Green Revolution Cooling) has been an environmental evangelist as you see it engrained in our name and has been at the forefront of data center sustainability since our founding.

As a company we are totally committed to raising awareness and creating a sense of urgency around the issue of decarbonization. We encourage you to take a stand on this issue as well as, help flatten the carbon footprint curve, and not allow data centers’ environmental impact to “soar” nearly to the heights of the airlines.

1 Air Transport Action Group. January 2020. www.atag.org
2 Natural Resources Defense Council
3 https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions
4 IDC. https://www.idc.com
5 Greenpeace. Clicking Clean Virginia. February 1, 2019. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/reports/click-clean-virginia/
6 Energy. Gov. https://www.energy.gov/eere/amo/energy-efficient-cooling-control-systems-data-centers

Ready to Enhance Your Data Center Sustainability Efforts?

Send us an email at info@grcooling.com or call us at +1.512.692.8003. A GRC associate will reach out and talk details with you. Be sure to read our Guide to Sustainability Metrics with GRC’s ICEraQ™ — Going Beyond the Traditional Data Center.