The global demand for data is growing at an unprecedented pace as digitalisation enters almost every facet of life. The power sector, including renewables, is also becoming more digitalised and automated. To this end, a large number of industries have started relying on data centres for all their data storage and computation requirements. The data centre capacity is expected to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years on the back of rising data uptake, digitalisation and localisation, coupled with the launch of 5G services by the end of this fiscal. While data centres today are fueling India’s digital transformation journey, it is critical to look at the energy sources that are being used to power the data centres. Data centres are power guzzlers, therefore, clean energy for data centres is something that the industry should look forward to.
Importantly, as data centre capacity increases, the power requirement also rises. This is because data centres, by design require huge amounts of power to process and store data as well as to cool off server racks housing the computing equipment. Data centres account for roughly 1 per cent of global electricity use, as per the International Energy Agency’s recent statistics. Thus, as the demand for data centres is expected to increase, it has become critical to create greener and more efficient infrastructure that can offset the rise in energy demand and its related carbon footprint.
To this end, several technological solutions are now available in the market that can help reduce the energy footprint of data centres and make them energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Green data centres have already started gaining traction globally and companies are increasingly opting for renewables to meet their power demand. Further, efficiency improvements in data centre infrastructure and related systems, the growing share of efficient cloud and hyperscale data centres and the use of AI to control and optimise the cooling requirements of data centres are also helping to check energy demand.
Emergence of green data centres
A green data centre deploys environment-friendly solutions within its infrastructure. Like any other data centre, it stores, manages and disseminates data, while ensuring a lower carbon footprint. All its systems, mechanical and electrical, are designed with the goal to conserve energy. Another key aspect of a green data centre is the continuous monitoring of all applications. This enables the data centre to use power efficiently. It can transfer or redistribute energy across various applications, depending on requirements. This helps reduce the capital expenditure significantly. Green data centres also address the problem of dead server space prevalent in conventional data centres. While these servers do not have any functional use, they continue to consume energy and other resources, significantly adding to the capital expenditure. Meanwhile, green data centres can turn these servers off, thus reducing energy consumption and cost. The efficient working of a green data centre can also be attributed to its infrastructure layout. Many green data centres use self-contained, prefabricated modules that can be deployed and changed with great ease. These modules are designed for optimal and predictable energy use.
Energy efficiency strategies
Power Grid Corporation of India Limited’s board has approved the company’s expansion into the data centre business. A pilot data centre at an estimated cost of Rs 3.22 billion has been approved to be established at Manesar. The company is also planning to establish hyperscale data centres in the country. Further, Powergrid Telecom is planning to set up edge data centres to serve businesses in Tier 1 cities of the country.
Sify Technologies Limited has concluded power purchase agreements (PPAs) with Vibrant Energy Holdings, a majority-owned subsidiary of Blue Leaf Energy Asia Pte Limited, which is a portfolio company of Macquarie GIG. These PPAs are for a total of 231 MW of solar and wind energy capacity to power Sify’s latest hyperscale data centres, of which a 67 MW solar PPA had been signed in March 2021 and commissioned in February 2022. This partnership will minimise the company’s dependence on fossil fuels to power its fast growing data centre business, dramatically reducing its carbon footprint.
In January 2022, telecom major, Bharti Airtel announced the commissioning of a 21 MW captive solar power plant in Bhuldana, Maharashtra. This solar power project has been set up by Airtel, in partnership with Avaada, for supplying renewable energy to Nxtra by Airtel’s large and edge data centres and switching centres in Maharashtra. The company has a target to source more than 50 per cent of the power requirements of its data centres from renewable energy sources in the next 12 months. Prior to this, Nxtra by Airtel had commissioned two captive solar power units of 14 MW at Tilhar and Begumpur, to meet the power requirements of its core and edge data centres in Uttar Pradesh. Earlier, Airtel had acquired a 26 per cent equity stake in AMP Solar Evolution. The Tilhar project was the first of the two solar plants set up by the company, in partnership with AMP Energy.
In August 2021, ReNew Power and RackBank Datacenters Private Limited signed an MoU to power RackBank’s hyperscale data centre in India with 100 per cent renewable energy. ReNew will construct, co-own and operate a hybrid power generation facility, specifically to supply power to RackBank’s data centre. RackBank will purchase green power from this facility directly from ReNew through the open access mechanism. RackBank expects to reduce its power costs by 30 per cent through this partnership.
Meta (formerly known as Facebook) signed a deal with CleanMax in April 2021 to buy renewable energy from a 32 MW wind project being developed in Karnataka. The project is now operational. CleanMax owns and operates the project, while Meta purchases electricity off the grid through environmental attribute certificates or carbon credits. According to a company statement, this project is part of a larger portfolio of wind and solar projects that both companies are working on together, which will be located at Meta’s facilities and will help power the company’s data centres. In another initiative, Meta is working with local utilities to help create green power programmes that allow customers to purchase renewable power at a certain green tariff. This helps in promoting renewable power uptake. Meta has pioneered six such green tariffs to support its data centres. Meta is also connected to various renewable energy networks such as the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, RE-Source and RE100, which are committed to promoting clean power development.
Global data centre player NTT is rapidly expanding its renewable energy capacity to meet the power needs of its growing data centre operations. Its first 50 MW captive solar power plant was set up in Solapur, Maharashtra, in collaboration with Tata Power Renewable Energy Company Limited. The project caters to the energy needs of its Mumbai data centres. The company is reportedly implementing another 50 MW solar project as well as a hybrid renewable energy project to cater to its energy needs.
The Singapore-headquartered ST Telemedia Global Data Centres’ India unit procures 34 per cent of its power from renewable sources, as of 2021. It aims to increase this to more than 50 per cent over the next few years. The company entered into a partnership with Avaada Energy last year to procure 99 MUs of renewable energy for its Maharashtra facilities.
A Hyderabad-based data centre company, CtrlS has installed a building-integrated solar plant at its Mumbai data centre. This 1.3 MW solar plant generates 1.8 MUs of power per year and helps offset carbon dioxide emissions by 620 tonnes per year. As part of its plans to further green its operations, the company is implementing captive solar power plants with a total capacity of 200 MW. New players are also opting for renewable power for its obvious benefits. For instance, AdaniConneX, the 50:50 joint venture of Adani Enterprises and EdgeConneX formed in February 2021, plans to develop and operate date centres throughout India that will be largely powered by renewable energy. This helps them to, on the one hand, reduce their operating costs and on the other, portray a greener image to customers.
The way ahead
With a growing portfolio of services and applications on offer, the digital customer base in India is widening rapidly and so is the technology to cater to it. This is creating a massive demand for data centre capacity, leading to a spike in power demand. In this context, it becomes imperative to step up the use of green measures in order to meet the power requirements of this energy-intensive infrastructure sustainably. Data centre companies have started procuring renewable energy for powering their operations to some extent. Following the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), it has become even more important than ever that organisations address sustainability and reduce their carbon footprints. Many organisations aim to have net zero emissions by the year 2050, which requires designing their data centres in a manner that promotes energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.
Net, net, data centres with their large power requirements and huge scope for renewable energy uptake are poised to become a large stand-alone market for clean energy players in the coming years.