Towards greener data centres, 2012-2015

CE Delft has conducted a study on the potential for reducing the CO2 emissions of Dutch data centres. It was carried out for the development organisation Hivos, which is appealing to these centres to make an active effort to reduce their energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

The study estimates the total power consumption of Dutch data centres at 1.6 TWh, equivalent to the consumption of 450,000 households. In a business-as-usual scenario consumption is predicted to rise substantially, to 2.1 TWh in 2015, equivalent to the consumption of 600,000 households and 2% of aggregate Dutch consumption.

There is plenty of scope for the data centre industry to operate more sustainably and reduce its CO2 emissions.

  1. A pivotal first step is to reduce energy consumption by improving energy efficiency. The City of Amsterdam now has energy efficiency standards in place for data centres, and if these were to hold for centres outside Amsterdam, too,  a 20% reduction is energy consumption could be achieved, equivalent to the consumption of 85,000 households. Since many of the measures concerned are already cost-effective, numerous steps are already being taken in this direction.
  2. The most effective way to improve the sustainability profile with respect to energy use is for data centres to  invest in more renewable energy capacity, either themselves or in collaboration with other parties, passing on additional costs to customers. This will not only lead to a real decline in CO2 emissions, but also send out a clear signal. Simply purchasing ‘green power’ on the market, while being a far cheaper option, does not lead to cuts in carbon emissions. There is less green power available with an environmental ‘Milieukeur’ certificate and besides helping make consumers more environmentally aware it can also have an indirect political effect. A quite different option that does lead to carbon cuts is to offset emissions by funding renewable energy projects, in the developing  world, for example.

In all these cases there is plenty of scope for action, with only modest additional costs for datacentre customers.