By Simon Prichard, Product Strategy Manager, Mitsubishi Electric.
As data centres become an increasingly critical element of the UK’s digital infrastructure, the question continues to circle about how we can make them as energy efficient as possible.
This is a vital point that needs to be addressed. After all, data centres are a huge source of carbon emissions, collectively pumping out the equivalent CO2 of a mid-sized country every year. In order to reach the UK’s carbon reduction goals, the emissions caused by the whole data centre industry must be significantly cut over the next few (vital) years.
Of course, the environmental impact of data centres is already being closely considered and green construction is coming to the forefront of design. In fact, many centre operators have pledged to reach zero-carbon emissions by 2030. At an industry level, the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact has committed to the fact that data centre electricity demand will be matched by 75% renewable energy or hourly carbon-free energy by December 31, 2025, and 100% by December 31, 2030.
As part of this push, one area that must be focused on is investing in sustainable and efficient cooling solutions – as cooling is a big energy user in data centres – as well as reducing the level of embodied carbon in data centres and using analytics and smart insights to optimise how power is used.
Making cooling sustainable
Data centres and IT cooling rooms are unique environments, where a constant temperature must be maintained year-round. The spaces are built to be resilient with back-up generators and cooling equipment designed to work reliably 24 hours a day. This equipment is crucial, as it is there to stop computers from overheating and shutting down.
For example, when humidity levels vary, reliable, close control cooling must kick in and keep equipment at the right temperate to work effectively. And it isn’t just the performance of cooling equipment at the start of its lifecycle that needs to be taken into account, a chiller also needs to continue delivering that level of performance every day through to year 10 and beyond.
This constant cooling requires a lot of energy, so the challenge is to cool spaces reliably while making sure it happens in the most energy efficient, sustainable way possible.
Advanced controls can help here, as well as the use of planned, preventative maintenance, which can keep products working as efficiently as possible. Chiller diagnostic checks, run-performance evaluations in combination with inverter technology, all promote optimised performance and reduce wear and tear – which should in turn keep energy being used most effectively.
Harnessing analytics and smart insights
As technology continues to evolve, it’s becoming possible to harness real-time data visualisation and smart insights to optimise the use of cooling equipment. By giving organisations this kind of detailed information into the operations of their data centres, it’s possible to reduce energy use in certain areas, and identify systems that could be running more efficiently.
This includes mapping all of the systems that a data centre has, locating them, tagging them and then converting ‘invisible’ raw data into actionable intelligence to make things work better and more efficiently.
This is particularly handy when data centres may be using multiple systems from different vendors – which often can’t talk to one another or require the use of numerous dashboards. By being able to see the data all together, it’s possible to better address many challenges – including performance management, accuracy of billing, energy costs and system capacity – and importantly, make necessary changes to keep systems operating in the most energy efficient way possible.
This innovation can support everyone involved in data centres – including manufacturing companies, building owners, facility managers and even government organisations – to reduce the cost of deploying and maintaining IT cooling equipment, and bring down both the carbon footprint and the cost of running data centres.
Reusing, not wasting, energy
When it comes to improving data centre sustainability, there is also a big opportunity to reuse energy, rather than waste it. Heat pumps are the key here, as they have the potential to take recovered heat which is generated in data centres – which would otherwise be released out into the environment – and upgrade it to be distributed and heat local spaces, potentially via a heat network.
The transfer of ‘waste’ heat into something useful will help to reduce the amount of energy needed to generate new heat across the wider network.
Tackling embodied carbon
As well as cutting the energy created by cooling and heating within a data centre, it’s also important to consider the whole process of building, running, maintaining – and even demolishing – a data centre, and the carbon footprint that each stage has.
Fundamentally, data centres are buildings, which means that they contain a lot of ‘embodied’ carbon too. This includes the overall CO2 emissions in the metal, bricks and mortar used in the construction of the building, for example.
By identifying how design, construction and management decisions affect a data centre’s carbon footprint and how to minimise it, it is possible to bring down the overall environmental impact of a data centre.
Data centres ostensibly play a very important role in keeping our IT systems running, but in doing so they are inevitably energy intensive spaces. Through more sophisticated analytics and monitoring, as well as taking into consideration how energy can be reused and how embodied carbon can be reduced across every stage of building and running a data centre, it is possible to keep carbon emissions, energy use and running cost down. On the road to reaching net-zero carbon emission by 2050, and the even more ambitious goal of achieving a zero-carbon data centre by 2030, these factors will be key.