The European Data Centre Association (EUDCA) has announced the publication of a new white paper entitled ‘Whole Life Carbon Assessments for Data Centres’, available to download from the organisation’s website.
The new publication says that as energy efficiency measures are potentially reaching their limits, with many data centre operators addressing operational carbon through power purchase agreements, on-site renewable energy technologies and taking into consideration the decarbonisation of grids, the next challenge will be achieving net zero embodied carbon. These emissions are emitted into the atmosphere during the manufacture, construction, maintenance, and end of life stages of a data centre’s lifecycle – and cannot be reversed.
“The actual volume of carbon emissions caused by data centres continues to be a matter of debate,” says Andrew Harrison, Chair of the EUDCA Technical Committee. “Whilst it’s important we understand that number, we cannot escape the fact that demand for data is growing and if nothing changes, the result will be an even greater contribution to global emissions and climate change. The industry therefore needs to focus on radically reducing total lifecycle emissions associated with data centres – whole life carbon assessments are key to unlocking greater understanding to help guide decision making.”
The benefits of whole life carbon assessments (WLCA) within the data centre industry are clear, and there is growing understanding of their importance – especially by those who have employed specialist sustainability teams. However, implementation may present challenges; for example, there can be disparity with project delivery teams who could make the greatest impact by harmonising design and construction decisions. Education, continuing to spread awareness and upskilling are key to addressing this.
A key element of WLCAs is defining the boundaries of the assessment. Given the current maturity of the data centre industry in conducting these assessments, there is still a grey area with many assessments excluding the MEP systems and externals from their scope. According to outputs from assessments which have carried out, the MEP systems are a huge component of the overall embodied carbon emissions of a data centre and should therefore be considered as a prominent factor within the WLCA.
The 19-page white paper explains the relevance of WLCAs, what they consist of and some of the methodologies and reporting frameworks that currently exist. It provides an example of a typical data centre compared to other building types and how WLCA can offer value to data centre operators at a time when there is a growing focus on decarbonisation and embodied carbon. Finally, it highlights some of the challenges the data centre industry faces in relation to WLCA and recommendations on how to tackle these.