By Marc Garner, VP Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric, UK & Ireland
One of the greatest challenges faced by today’s data centre operators is the need to meet demands for reliability with minimal impact on the environment. Data centres are estimated to represent between 1-2% of global electricity consumption and when combined with the continued growth of data centre capacity, efficiency and sustainability have become more critical than ever. In fact, a survey by Schneider Electric and 451 Research found that 97% of colocation customers are demanding contractual commitments to sustainability, and of the +800 global businesses surveyed, more than half believe that efficiency and sustainability will be important competitive differentiators within three years.
In recent years, data centre operators have come under increasing pressure to make their facilities more efficient, resilient, and sustainable. A growing awareness of the impacts of climate change, combined with end-user demands for sustainability, has seen a number of transformative initiatives take place within the sector, including the emergence of the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact. However, as sustainability demands continue to gather pace and become a key factor of both differentiation and decision making, how can an industry built on reliability, meet demands for resiliency and sustainable operations?
A balancing act
According to the Uptime
Institute, “power remains the leading cause of outages,” so it
pays to invest in technologies that can balance the need to be
environmentally-conscious and risk averse. Uptime and uninterruptible power are,
in many respects, business-critical, and for data centre operators, a
sustainable backup power system can offer a resilient solution to safeguard
against downtime and meet environmental demands.
One key attribute of a sustainable
uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is its operating mode, which can boost the
efficiency, or reduce the energy usage, without compromising on the level of
redundancy. Advanced eco modes such as Schneider Electric’s patented
ECOnversion technology, offers UPS efficiencies of up to 99% without
sacrificing load protection alongside pioneering safety features, including
Live Swap functions, which ensure unscheduled downtime is kept to a minimum
during the maintenance process.
UPS batteries and the associated number of
charge or discharge cycles is another important sustainability attribute,
especially if an organisation is looking to reduce its energy usage and
emissions over the lifecycle. UPS systems that offer two to three times the
life expectancy of traditional systems, such as those powered by Lithium-Ion
(li-ion), can offer users significant benefits, including a 30%-50% lower total
cost of ownership (TCO) and reduced carbon emissions.
Li-ion powered solutions can also have a 50-75% smaller physical footprint compared
with valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries, thereby enabling the user to
right size for the load and scale up according to power demands. This reduces
the need for redundant infrastructure and wasted energy, meaning users can
provision now and plan sustainably, for the future.
Another sustainability consideration is the circularity attribute of an uninterruptible power supply. Products labelled as Green Premium can ensure vendors are crystal clear about the sustainability impact of their hardware systems, and help end-users to gain a greater understanding of the technologies embodied carbon footprint. Such aspects might include transparent environmental information about products, minimal use of hazardous substances and compliance with regulations such a Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and the European Union (EU) Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). Further, environmental disclosures such as a Product Environmental Profile (PEP) or circularity profiles can provide owners and operators with guidance on responsible product end of life treatments along with circular value propositions.
A reduction in harmful materials
Switchgear is another key attribute of a resilient power system and in recent years, many changes have been made to reduce its environmental impact. Until recently, sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) had long been used within high and medium voltage switchgear as an insulating and circuit-breaking medium, offering the advantages of being extremely effective and low cost. However, its one big disadvantage is that it is a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) and is 23,500 times more harmful than CO2. As such it is quickly being replaced by newer and more innovative switchgear technologies. These new systems combine pure air insulation, vacuum technology with innovative Shunt Vacuum Interruption to deliver industry-leading circuit-breaking performance with zero GHG emissions.
Medium voltage switchgear systems
incorporating these advanced sustainability improvements can deliver a proven
solution for safer network management, while avoiding the use of GHGs, and
eliminating the risks associated with leaks or toxic by-products. Furthermore,
many of the anticipated cost efficiencies have already been addressed, which
helps to support greater adoption of sustainable equipment in live and
Today, meeting the need for needs for
sustainable and resilient critical power systems is paramount. Yet, by
carefully considering the type of technologies deployed, their energy
efficiency and circular attributes, today’s data centre operators have the
means to ensure operational continuity, while minimising their impact on the