Why companies should focus on building sustainable data centers

Microsoft, Facebook, and Google are waking up to the reality that data centers need to be more sustainable.
12 October 2018

Does our tech need to get more energy efficient? Source: Shutterstock

Do you know that data centers currently consume a lot of electricity and water? It’s actually a problem that several experts are concerned about.

The National Resource Defense Council claims that electricity consumption at data centers is projected to increase to roughly 140 billion kilowatt-hours annually by 2020, the equivalent annual output of 50 power plants, costing businesses in the US approximately US$13 billion annually in electricity bills and emitting nearly 100 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year.

In terms of water, studies suggest that a typical (15MW) data center uses 360,000 gallons of water per day (half the water in an Olympic-size swimming pool). According to CloudScene, there are 2464 data centers in the US alone, which means the region uses 887 million gallons of water to support them.

Combined together, it’s a recipe for disaster in the long-term.

Fortunately, companies — especially tech giants such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Google are waking up to the reality that data centers need to be more sustainable in order to support the tech-centric world of tomorrow.

“Our data center in Clonee will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, thanks to Ireland’s robust wind resources. This will help us reach our goal of powering 50 percent of our infrastructure with clean and renewable energy by the end of 2018,” said Facebook recently.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is trialing a new concept —  underwater data centers. It’s Project Natick uses a small data center, packed into a shipping container and dropped to the bottom of the North Sea — and it’s fully powered by renewable energy.

Google, inclined to think outside the box, is buying renewable power to meet its sustainability goals. In recent years, the company has become the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable energy.

In 2017 alone, Google purchased more than seven billion kilowatt-hours of electricity (roughly as much as is used yearly by the state of Rhode Island) from solar and wind farms that were built specifically for the company.

This enabled the company to match 100 percent of its annual electricity consumption through direct purchases of renewable energy.

“It represents a head start toward achieving a much greater, longer-term challenge: sourcing carbon-free energy for our operations on a 24×7 basis,” said a company document issued recently.

However, these companies, although they pull considerable weight in the industry, they’re the exception not the trend when it comes to data centers.

A large number of data centers are still running on conventional energy and water and aren’t very sustainable. It’s up to their clients, the enterprises that provide them with business to rein them in and demand that get more efficient with the way they use energy.