Every now and again the media locks onto the environmental impact of humanity’s digital footprint. Most recently the furore has been over digital artwork – so-called nonfungible tokens or NFTs. It could as easily be over spam emails, crypto currency, streaming services, or any other aspect of our digital lives. The fact is, all data has a physical presence somewhere, and that physical presence requires significant amounts of energy for power and cooling.
What is the environmental impact of our internet use?
When I say significant amounts – I mean significant amounts. A year’s worth of emails received by the average office worker is said to equate to 0.6 tonnes CO2 per person. And general internet use has an impact as well, with an hour of video streaming estimated to generate 36g CO2. And these are the minor, everyday, officey things we all do. If you work with data-dense VFX, high-performance computing, or brain-busting spreadsheets, your environmental impact dramatically increases.
Now at 4D, we’re not naïve. We fully acknowledge the impact that digital transformation has on energy use – and the cost that has on the planet. But we are optimistic. Speaking as a multi-tenant data centre, we know there is great potential for improved energy efficiency within the industry. The fact that some UK data centres are achieving a fantastically low Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.12 while others are operating at 1.8 is evidence of that.
PUE - Power Usage Effectiveness is a measure of how energy-efficient a data centre is. A PUE score is calculated like this:
Total energy used by data centre ÷ Energy used by servers = PUE
With a theoretically perfect score of 1 meaning a data centre is only using energy to power their servers and nothing else.
Energy use can be reduced and it can be made more sustainable. Let’s take a look at five UK-based multi-tenant data centre operators at the forefront of sustainability:
Teledata received the Data Centre Energy Efficiency Project of the Year Award in 2020 for its battery storage technology. This unique solution not only reduces energy consumption, but also enables Teledata to store electricity from the national grid at times of low demand and discharge it during the most beneficial periods, acting as a reserve during peak tariff times.
Teledata also uses free air cooling in addition to highly intelligent control systems and cold aisle containment to optimise cooling efficiency. With energy efficiency at the forefront of its business, it also promises to invest in the most efficient solutions at all times, regardless of increased upfront costs – a dedication to sustainability we fully support.
Equinix are committed to sustainability with their "Future First" approach to sustainability. They want to help ensure we have a healthy planet and that businesses do their part in protecting the environment.
They have designed their data centres and incorporated technologies in several different ways to pursue sustainability. This includes growing plants on top of their data centres which helps keep the buildings cool and reduced energy used by the cooling systems. They've also got innovative low-energy cooling systems that use ground water or evaporation to cut energy use.
Iron Mountain is a multinational data centre provider with facilities in 15 locations (including London) across three continents. Globally, the company is committed to being a leader in data centre sustainability and green colocations facilities.
All Iron Mountain data centres are currently powered by 100% renewable energy, and with Green Power Pass, the company has found a way to let customers take credit for the green power they use in Iron Mountain facilities. What is more, Iron Mountain has pledged to reduce absolute GHG emissions by 20% from 2016 levels by 2025.
Digital Realty have done a lot to reduce their impact on the environment and not only in regards to how they run their data centres. Their data centres are designed to require fewer construction materials, so that their sustainability policy is in effect as early as the construction process.
They use free cooling and cooling systems which are water-efficient to reduce environmental impact. Digital Realty also try to use reclaimed water supplies where possible and limit their use of potable water supplies for cooling.
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without us! We join our industry peers with a commitment to putting energy efficiency at the heart of our managed infrastructure business.
We were early adopters of adiabatic cooling towers, which reduced the energy use of our cooling systems by about 90%. (Our most recent adiabatic cooling project scored us a DCS Award too.) We further increase cooling efficiency through the use of cold aisle containment in all our data centres. In 2021 we also launched our immersion cooling hosting service, making this sustainable technology available to more businesses.
Beyond cooling, we are also pushing sustainability in other areas, including:
- Our UPS systems achieve line-interactive/’Smart Active’ efficiency of up to 98.5%
- We use low energy LED lighting with motion sensors to shut off automatically when not needed
- Our electricity is backed by Renewable Energy Guarantees Origin Certificates
- We provide Carbon-Neutral cloud services through carbon offsetting
All of the above means we have achieved an all-year average PUE of 1.14 – and we continue to work on ways to bring that ratio down even further.
As green as you want it
While there is a certain amount of pressure coming from government, we think that the industry has a responsibility to acknowledge and reduce our environmental impact through every available measure. Equally, the best and fastest way to make the industry more sustainable is for customers to demand change. So, if you want to partner with an ethical data centre that prioritises efficiency, make sure you say so – loudly and often! You can also check out our green credentials, or get in touch to see how our services could help your business reduce its carbon footprint.