The looming datacenter energy challenge

With billions of devices connected to the internet, data is a growing part of the world’s CO2-emissions. In 2015, datacenters’ energy use was higher than the entire UK’s consumption. By 2040, the world’s net electricity generation is expected to double, and fossil fuels are anticipated to be more than 50%.

The traditional datacenter blueprint results in a high and increasing carbon footprint. And, as data grows exponentially, so does the urgency to address the carbon emissions caused by the industry. With energy at the core of global challenges, electricity is an important part of the puzzle. Each year, demand for electricity rises by more than 2% making it the world’s fastest growing form of delivered energy. As fossil fuels continue to be a main source for electricity, so will the burning of carbon fuels produce large amounts of carbon dioxide and therefore, causing climate change.

But where will a change come from? As companies, we possess much of the power to change in our own hands. Today’s energy-intensive industries, such as datacenters, have the possibilities not only to identify sustainable regions, but to also utilize an abundance of clean, green energy at low energy prices through stable and reliable electricity grids.

According to a recent IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C, drastic change is needed. In Johan Rockström’s latest publication, he agrees with Chairman of the UN Scientific Climate Panel IPCC, Hoesung Lee’s opinion that this is the most important IPCC report so far. Looking ahead, there is hope in the form of sustainable solutions. Datacenters should not be a threshold for the 1.5-degree target but may actually be in line with the fact that they are invested in the right locations. And it is these locations that will help uncover sustainable regions and allow access to green energy, as well as provide stable and strong power grids and good connectivity.

At Node Pole, we think it is important to apply a holistic view to the total carbon footprint from datacenters, and then act swiftly to minimize overall carbon emissions throughout the operational processes. This all starts with the energy mix used in the datacenters — taking into account the location-based carbon emission factors — and can be strengthened further by sourcing renewable power, and thereby supporting the growth of renewables. On site, we see opportunities for companies to significantly reduce their carbon emissions or perhaps eliminate them altogether. This will not only increase their appeal and boost awareness among end users, but also make their brand more engaging. We feel it is in the industry’s commercial interest to solve the problems sustainably.

The growth in data consumption brings with it an increase in energy demands, and if the datacenter industry does not want to end up like the new transport sector or heavy industry, built on unsustainable foundations and with large difficulties to change track, it has to act now.