As data centre adoption increases significantly, questions have started popping up regarding the huge power requirements that go into powering them. According to some estimates, the data centre industry uses in excess of 90 billion kW-hours of electricity annually.
As vast amounts of data are computed at a fraction of a second, data centres tend to be energy-intensive. Take the case of Singapore- the country’s data centre industry accounted for 7 per cent of its total electricity consumption in 2012. This is predicted to reach 12 per cent by 2030. As per the US Department of Energy, a data centre consumes 100-200 times more energy than an office building and the energy cost is estimated to be around 50 per cent of the data centres operating costs.
In the fossil fuel-powered world, this challenge was straightforward- produce more coal-fired or thermal power to meet the energy requirements. However, in the age of Renewable Energy, the solution is not so straightforward for companies in the developing world.
Even though renewable energy powered data centres seem like an ideal solution to replace current coal-powered facilities, there are certain roadblocks that need to be addressed for renewable energy to be viable, according to Ankit Saraiya, Director, Techno Electric and Engineering Company Ltd (TEECL).
The responsibility of adapting to renewable energy for powering data centres are on the industry since data centres are resource hungry.
However, though renewable energy powered data centres seem like an ideal solution to replace current coal-powered facilities, there are certain roadblocks that need to be addressed for renewable energy to be viable, according to Ankit Saraiya, Director, Techno Electric and Engineering Company Ltd (TEECL).
Globally, efforts are on towards using clean energy. Google claims to have matched 100 per cent of its annual electricity consumption in 2017 and 2018 with purchases of renewable energy. Also, Google’s European data centres are powered by wind farms. Similarly, Facebook claims that 75 per cent of its power purchases came from renewable sources in 2018 and that it expects that number to reach 100 per cent this year, largely by continuing to invest in renewable energy projects located on the same electric grid as its data centres. It’s important to point out that green data centres will likely never be powered exclusively by renewable energy. Their high energy consumption and 24/7 workload demand that they stay connected to local, reliable sources of power, whether that power comes from renewable energy sources or not.
The most compelling challenge is the lack of a solid framework and incentive from the government to opt for renewable energy to fuel these massive projects. The Indian government has taken steps towards mandating companies operating within India’s borders reduce their carbon footprint by 2030 (including by using renewable energy sources). However, these are still nascent stages and need more robust doctrine to ease the way (forward), said Saraiya.
Another significant roadblock comes from a technological standpoint. Leading data centre formats such as hyperscalers, Edge data centres, need constant power supply. “Renewable energy generation is seasonal and therefore not uniform throughout the year. Policies have to be developed that can accommodate this natural phenomenon while accounting for units consumed by data centres as renewable energy,” points out Saraiya.
Additionally, while some geographies in the country enjoy ample of sun, wind and tidal density, it’s always limited to a few parts of the country. “This could be a huge stumbling roadblock especially if the company wants to set up a data centre in a location that doesn’t have significant renewable energy power source therefore inter-state supply of Renewable Energy for such quantum needs to be consistently traded,” states Saraiya.
India stands in the forefront with regard to the amount of renewable energy produced. The government has set a target of generating 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, which seems to be on target. Now it just needs ways to harness it better for energy-intensive use cases.