Green Data Centres: Aiming for a lower carbon footprint

Aiming for a lower carbon footprint

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.