A blueprint for data centre sustainability compliance

Schneider Electric

By Mark Deguara, General Manager Data Centres, Schneider Electric
Wednesday, 11 May, 2022


A blueprint for data centre sustainability compliance

From electrical safety standards to ensuring equipment can be recycled, the IT sector has a long history of being one of the most heavily regulated industries. When looking at how quickly the criticality of data centres is becoming, it becomes evident why there is a constantly evolving regulatory landscape.

Consumers and environmental groups are becoming well aware that data centres represent 1–2% of total global electricity consumption. With many more Australian data centres being developed nationwide, so too is consumer concern around climate change. As attention from climate ‘watchdog’ organisations increases, identifying effective and efficient green regulation has never been more important.

Despite being heavy consumers of energy, data centres contribute substantially to energy management in the economy. While some data centres claim energy-efficient designs, it should be noted that the average Australian data centre is now over 20 years old, when sustainable design wasn’t a consideration.

With this rapid acceleration to a more automated and digital world, efficient and reliable data centres are at the heart of a green future. As our digital footprint expands, so too will the need for green data centres.

Government agencies are imposing regulations globally

While there is a clear course of action in Australia, such as expanding the NSW Government implemented NABERS initiative into all other states, there is much more that can be done to create greener data centres.

Globally, government agencies are facing the same challenges with data centre sustainability. By looking at the regulations imposed by other countries paired with results, Australia can take an evidence-based approach to implementing new sustainability compliances.

In 2019, Singapore raised a moratorium on new data centres to address carbon emission challenges. One of its policies includes ramping up uptake of renewable energy, where Singapore aims to increase its solar capacity by more than seven times by 2030, bringing it from seven-fold to a 2-gigawatt peak (GWp).

Similarly, Indonesia is making good progress with green building standards in its major cities. The country of 270 million people aims to reduce building energy intensity by 1% per year until 2025. Japan and the Republic of Korea have adopted zero net emissions targets to be achieved by 2050, showcasing strong commitment towards driving sustainability.

The EU released its Green Deal in January 2021. It warned Europe may still need to act to make data centres more energy efficient. EU advisors have put the tough measures on a long list of policies the EU could conceivably use that includes a tax on data centre pollution and incentives for owners that invest in green data centre technology. Additionally, in July 2021, they also released ‘Fit for 55’, which recommends legislative policies to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030.

In China, the Beijing Development and Reform Commission said in April of 2021: “For projects completed in 2021 and after, the proportion of annual renewable energy utilisation in annual energy consumption will increase by 10% every year, and 100% will be achieved by 2030.”

Imposing a 5-step sustainability blueprint

In addition to taking inspiration from the green regulations of other countries, Schneider Electric has established a clear framework for how data centres can achieve a holistic environmental sustainability approach.

1. Set a bold actionable strategy: Use a data-driven consultation approach to help create an actionable strategy and reach your climate and sustainability ambitions. Ensure you are leveraging data for optimisation, analytics and reporting. Today’s organisations are recognising that improved sustainability performance contributes to improved financial performance, and investors have taken notice as well.

While governments are looking to set the bar for sustainability compliance within data centres, industry pioneers are pushing the boundaries of their sustainability goals with climate commitments becoming increasingly expected by employees, customers and investors alike.

For example, while a goal of carbon neutrality was once a differentiator, we now recognise the potential to have even greater impact with carbon negative operations. This year, Iron Mountain joined Google in setting public goals for 100% hourly matched carbon-free energy from local resources.

2. Implement efficient data centre designs: When building or buying into data centres, apply an architectural approach to create customised, efficient, repeatable, serviceable, vendor-agnostic designs. Ensure compliance, transparency and higher environmental performance of products are kept in mind.

3. Drive efficiency in operations with software and digital services to enable remote monitoring capabilities. Optimise the lifespan and efficiency of your systems by defining a clear strategy for maintenance and modernisation to augment the lifespan, inclusive of recycling services for end-of-life products to ensure circular economy best practices.

4. Buy renewable energy (PPA and onsite): Explore a custom renewable procurement strategy that includes: microgrids, PPAs, VPPAs, energy-as-a-service and EACs. In an effort to offset power used by data centres, Amazon recently purchased two Australian solar farms. The most recent solar farm purchased by the company generates 250,000 megawatt hours of clean energy each year, which is the equivalent of approximately 40,000 average Australian homes.

5. Decarbonise supply chains: Evaluate your Scope 3 footprint to help identify and execute strategies to meet decarbonisation objectives, and use digital performance tracking and reporting for your decarbonisation program. Most recently, major oil and gas company Chevron had its board vote to reduce Scope 3 emissions on an absolute basis, reducing the total by 40% by 2030.

Sustainable business practices are on track to becoming standard business, and some may argue they already are. Aside from being the best path towards addressing the most pressing issue of our time, they’re often the best solution from a business standpoint. Data centres are the beating heart of the IT sector, and while Australia has a long way to go, sustainable regulations will provide the opportunity for a greener future while pushing the boundaries of Australia’s overall sustainability commitments.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/momius

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