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January 12, 2016updated 31 Aug 2016 10:29am

How data centres are still under pressure to meet renewable energy goals

Analysis: Data centres need to adapt in order to reach the EC's 2020 renewable energy goals.

By Joao Lima

Much has been written around the green data centre, how renewable energy can make data centres more social and improve energy efficiency.

Yet, a recent survey has found that while the majority of organisations are facing growing pressure to improve the efficiency of their data centres, 43% of European hubs have no energy efficiency objectives in place for the design and operation of their data centres.

The fact that nearly half of data centres have no energy efficiency objectives drawn, is an alarming indicator that exposes the disconnect between goals and an understanding of the measures needed to make effective change in a time when renewable powered buildings are a critical industry-wide debate.

As a result, this lack of energy management efficiency puts the ability of organisations to manage their IT resources at risk, according to the study’s commissioner, The Green Grid.

The survey also found that 97% of the 150 IT decision makers surveyed in the UK, Germany and France felt that they could improve their monitoring capabilities. Only 29% of organisations are able to entirely quantify the environmental impact of their data centres.

This all despite increasing pressure from both national and EU policy makers to improve environmental sustainability.

The European Commission has set out its vision for data centres to be at least 80% powered by renewable energy by 2020.

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The Green Grid said that IT leaders will need to commit to renovating their resource efficiency policies. Working towards this goal will also require significant efforts from energy suppliers and governments.

The survey has also found that 88% of data centre chiefs consider hubs to be an important part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy.

Jack Pouchet, VP at The Green Grid, said: "[Renewable energy] is available but not viable everywhere.

"The industry needs to look at how to make it more viable in more places. After all, you have to put your data centre where it makes financial sense, security sense and business sense, it is just the way it goes.

"There is a lot of social pressure for us. If you look at 100MW or 500MW campus, you are not just talking about huge amounts of resources, you also talk about local community [and the impact your site has on it]."

Vasiliki Georgiadou, project manager at GreenIT Amsterdam, said: "[Data centres] are located in cities, next to people. Providers should play around with the grid they have there. As a data centre provider focus on the data centre and what you can give back [to the local community, the grid and businesses]."

Conversely, data centre efficiency management and the ability to keep track of energy efficiency should be going hand-in-hand if resources are to be effectively managed, according to Roel Castelein, EMEA marketing chair for The Green Grid.

He said: "While data centres are recognised as a central part of organisations’ energy efficiency strategies, many are operating and making decisions, to a certain degree, in the dark."

The Green Grid’s study has also found that the top challenges and opportunities at the board level are all to do with reducing and predicting costs, rather than on ‘green’ or resource efficient objectives.

Castelein said: "This is likely driven by customer requirements in an extremely competitive marketplace, requiring increasing flexibility and ‘always on’ functionality, despite the common focus on data centres in CSR strategies.

"Data centre managers need to adapt their ambitions for the future, moving away from immediate ROI towards long-term sustainability."

Speaking to CBR, Leonard Kay, commercial manager at Custodian Data Centres, said that efficiency has been a major driving force in the data centre sector over the last ten years, with many companies focusing on developing more efficient cooling and electrical systems.

"The only caveat is system resilience, which for most facilities cannot be compromised in the name of efficiency. Ironically, ‘greener’ cooling systems, such as those adopted by newer players in the market, actually offer more resilience than the legacy facilities of the more established facilities," he said.

"This approach is paying off for some of these new companies, as they can be more cost effective, more resilient and have less impact on the environment."

Looking at the pressure that has been put on the industry from the above mentioned parties, Jon Leppard, director of Future Facilities, said that when the pressure is on to make a change, most data centres are too slow to adapt.

He told CBR: "Their ability to control risk is also too limited. When varied workloads are pushed into the data centre by the business, or something needs to change within the facility itself, for example the implementation of ‘green’ equipment, or keeping up with the pressures of IoT, it poses questions about capacity and resilience which need very precise answers."

Leppard explained that however, the reality for most data centre managers is that answering these questions is often a combination of historic trends, experience and a bit of educated guesswork.

As for the UK specifically, the efficiency game is hardened for data centre operators, propelled by a mass energy generation stemming from fossil fuels.

According to Schneider Electric, 31.3% of UK power is produced by coal, 25% by gas and 2.3% by oil. Renewable energy circulating in the national grid is growing from its current 22.3%, however, "this is mainly from wind which creates concerns about intermittency," director Henrik Leerberg told CBR in a recent interview.

Examples of national data centres going fully green include Next Generation Data (NGD). The company is now powering the 750,000 sq ft Welsh data centre, one of the largest sites on the planet, with wind, hydro and solar.

Leppard said: "In order to ensure that the UK is at the cutting edge of digital, we need to create data centres that can respond to business needs with absolute control and visibility."


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