Sustainable Computing: The Need for Carbon-neutral Data Centers | India | Cushmann & Wakefield

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Today, one of the biggest challenges in the industry is storing, accessing and processing the ever-growing volume of data. Technology has been diligently trying to satisfy our demands and desires by consuming a considerable volume of conventional energy, leading to an unintended increase in carbon emissions. By implementing sustainable computing practices within data centers, overall energy efficiency and carbon footprint can be improved, leading to a more environmentally friendly digital ecosystem.

The environmental impact of the rapidly growing streaming industry

According to Study by the International Energy Agency (IEA)., every hour of OTT streaming causes 36 grams of carbon emissions. THE Indian Telecommunication Services Performance Indicators Report released by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) states that India has 850.94 million Internet subscribers dated 22 Sep (broadband and narrowband combined). If 50% of these subscribers watch 1 hour of OTT per day, this could potentially result in 5.6 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year. This staggering figure is equivalent to a container ship underway at 20 and 25 knots per hour for 8,717 days i.e. about 24 years – base calculated Greenhouse gas emissions from a typical passenger vehicle.

The explosive growth of data-intensive businesses is driving global demand for data centers

The surge in data-intensive activities such as streaming, augmented and virtual reality, and gaming has created a huge demand for data centers across the globe. To meet growing demands, data centers are rapidly being built to accommodate the growing volume of data and provide seamless experiences for users. Data centers, designed to handle the storage and processing of large data, consume significant amounts of energy. Notably, the largest data center in Hohhot, China spans 10 million square feet and consumes 150 MW of energy. Data centers currently account for 1% to 3% of the world’s total energy consumption and contribute up to 3.7% of global carbon emissions, surpassing the global airline industry. The expected doubling of data center capacity within the next 5-7 years will further increase energy consumption.

The Call for Carbon Neutrality: Measurement and Improvement Efforts

Given the circumstances, it is more urgent than ever that data centers become carbon-neutral. Many operators, including colocation operators and cloud service providers (CSPs) such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google, have committed to zero carbon emissions. These companies are signing renewable energy purchase agreements (PPAs) to support their sustainability goals. However, the central government must also provide incentives and access to renewable energy to help data center operators meet their Net Zero commitments.

To achieve Net Zero carbon emissions, data center operators are actively working to improve various aspects. Technological advances have led to an improvement in PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness), reducing it from 2.5 to around 1.5 in recent years. Singapore has set the benchmark at 1.3 PUE for new data center construction. While it is essential to improve PUE and renewable energy supply, it is not possible to achieve net zero carbon emissions alone. The optimization of water use effectiveness (WUE) and, in general, carbon use effectiveness (CUE) also need to be measured and improved. This trinity of metrics should be the new standard for green data centers.

Google reported that its data centers consumed about 4.3 billion gallons (16.3 billion liters) of water in 2021. While Google has pledged to replenish 120% of the water they consume would also require a commitment by all data center operators towards a reduction in WUE.

India’s Renewable Energy Production and Commitment to Net Zero:

India, a leader in renewable energy generation, has surpassed countries like the United States and is the world’s third largest producer of renewable energy. The share of renewable energy in India has increased from 36% to 41%, with the aim of generating 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. This progress places India in a favorable position to support sustainability goals of data centers through the use of renewable energy sources.

While the Net Zero carbon commitments of most operators in India are encouraging, there are still many challenges ahead. Similar to data center operators, data center end customers can also have Net Zero commitments. These customers can request requirements in terms of MEP equipment, raw material sourcing, etc., based on their Net Zero commitments. These requirements can have a direct impact on capex and operating costs for traders.

India has around 1.5GW of new supply in the pipeline and the land bank with operators has the potential to add another 3GW of supply. While India is focused on scaling up renewable energy generation, adding capacity may not keep pace with data center deployments, thus delaying Net Zero goals.

Faced with growing demand for data and the environmental impact of technology, data center operators must prioritize sustainability to ensure their data centers are not only green and carbon neutral, but also monitor the entire supply chain to truly achieve zero carbon emissions.

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