In Blog

Phil Lawson-Shanks

Phill Lawson-Shanks
Chief Innovation Officer
Aligned Energy

Data centers consume more than two percent of the world’s electricity and emit roughly as much carbon dioxide as the airline industry. If understood as a country, these facilities would be the fifth-largest consumer of energy in the world. With global digitization driving the exponential growth of data centers, it falls on providers to design, build, and operate these facilities in the most sustainable way possible.

Sustainability has become a critical litmus test by which a business is judged by its customers, workforce, society, government, and even its investors. Granted, much of the focus on sustainability and renewable energy has been spurred by regulatory policies and incentives. For example, governments around the world have established policies to increase the use of renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower that don’t produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. And in the U.S., at least 29 states have mandated renewable portfolio standards that require a certain percentage of energy be sourced from renewables.

However, the majority of the growth in renewable energy is being dictated by market forces, as consumers across a range of industries are increasingly pressuring organizations to become more responsible stewards of the environment. Hence, environmental responsibility is now a competitive advantage for companies that embrace sustainable energy policies.

Last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the top four users of renewable energy in the world were Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple. Google announced two years ago that all of its data centers were running on 100 percent renewable electricity. Amazon Web Services exceeded 50 percent renewable energy for its global infrastructure in 2018, and has made a long-term commitment to achieve 100 percent. Microsoft reached 50 percent renewable energy last year and plans to shift its data centers to 75 percent renewables by 2023, and 100 percent in the next decade. And since 2014, all of Apple’s data centers have been powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

But it’s not just big tech that has embraced renewables in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. Corporate giants, too, are buying into green energy. General Motors has plans to go completely green by 2050. Walmart, the largest private employer in the U.S., recently announced that it wants to secure 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. And the brewing company Anheuser-Busch, giving new meaning to its time-honored slogan, “This Bud’s for you,” is striving to reach 100 percent by the same year.

Solving the Sustainability Challenges of Data Center Infrastructure
IDC predicts the world’s data traffic will surge 61 percent from 33 zettabytes (ZB) last year to 175 ZB by 2025. As humankind embarks upon the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a global transformation that will involve the mainstream adoption of IoT-enabled devices: artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and smart city systems and applications – those of us in the data center community know that we cannot reduce the amount of data these technologies will generate, nor our increasing dependence on them. However, we also know that we can and must innovate technical solutions that balance the needs of humanity with those of the planet. It takes an enormous amount of energy to power and cool a data center. Hence, now is the time for the data center industry to elevate its commitment to environmental stewardship.

Some forward-looking data center providers are already demonstrating a commitment to solving the world’s most formidable sustainability challenges associated with data center infrastructure, energy consumption, and water usage. For example, an adaptive data center platform can assist companies to achieve greater business value with less costly energy and infrastructure resources.

An essential element of an adaptive data center is advanced cooling technology which utilizes up to 80 percent less energy and 85 percent less water. In addition to reducing resource usage, this mitigates environmental impact and lowers the Total Cost of Operation (TCO). Moreover, such a cooling system can deliver efficiency at any load, in any climate, and regardless of location to support firms’ sustainability goals.

But if the business community is to become a change agent for sustainability, it will require a cultural shift not just in one boardroom or C-suite but throughout organizations at every level, in every industry, and across every region of the planet.

Even the Fourth Industrial Revolution, sustained by all the wondrous technological advances we can expect, will require change-agents who advocate strongly for sustainability. So, I call for all data center providers and stakeholders to occupy the vanguard of this global movement, now and into the future, for the sake of our children and our planet.