Data Centres: How Will the Rising Demand for Data be Powered?

We are all producing digital data at such a rapid rate that it is predicted by 2020 there will be 10 times the amount of data that there is today.

Wireless communication network

More data has been created in the past two years than in the previous 5,000 years of human civilisation.

But all that information must live somewhere. After all, when we store our personal photos or company accounts in the Cloud, those files aren’t being sent to a mythical virtual realm, they are going to remote computer servers housed in buildings known as data centres.

The general rule of thumb is that data centres draw around 3-4 per cent of the total energy generated in a country. This is equally true of Australia, and each year this energy consumption continues to grow exponentially. At first glance, the most straightforward solution to reduce this level of energy consumption is to stop using data centres.

However, to live in the real world we must face up to the fact that data driven items are a part of our modern way of life, and therefore data centre demand will only increase.

This not only presents an environmental challenge, but an economic one too; how can this new asset that is quickly becoming a necessity going to be built and managed, and where?

Recommendations to solve pollution issues were once viewed in the same way, however, early efforts to use an “end of pipe” solution (build the chimney higher or put a filter on the end of the pipe) have matured with more efficient means to reduce, reuse and recycle. The same principles and process needs to take place in the data centre industry.

A potential solution to lessen the environmental impact, and potentially cost, of these energy hungry giants could be renewable energy. However, this may not be practical.

Until the renewables industry plays catch-up with their technology, storage and distribution, there are plenty of alternative strategies, with minimal capital expenditure, that data centre operators can pursue to reduce their energy consumption – and consequently improve their bottom line in the process.

With the main energy use of data centres attributed to cooling, there are several location – and climate-driven building fabric selections and optimisations that can be made to minimise heat gain from the outside.

This is particularly critical in Australia, wherein we experience extreme and prolonged high temperatures in comparison with cooler countries growing at an equally fast pace such as the UK.

For a cooling driven load, the solar absorptance of the roof should be as low as possible, and light colours should be selected.

The result is a lower proportion of the total incident solar radiation being absorbed by the roofing material. Insulation levels however should be modelled using real weather data and optimised against the deemed-to-satisfy National Construction Code provisions.

It is important that fabric options are reviewed and assessed for both annual energy consumption impact and peak cooling load for the location specific climate data.

For example, in a cooler climate increased insulation may result in a reduction in the peak cooling load (occurring on hottest days of the year), however over the course of a year the increased insulation may result in the heat produced by the centre being “boxed in”, causing an increase in the annual energy consumption which translates to increased operational costs

We have seen a shift in focus from initial upfront costs to ongoing operational considerations to curb energy usage fees. Sustainability input and the preparation of whole of life cycle cost estimates have therefore become increasingly valuable to the DC provider.

More efficient equipment and alternate methods of cooling, better use of space, and re-purposing of rejected heat will also go a long way to offsetting the energy used by data centres.

No one individual or organisation has a monopoly on all the answers, however, by sharing best practice, industry initiatives, and central government backing, this will all move in the right direction to reduce energy usage and ultimately cost.

With the rapid increase in population within Australian cities that is only set to grow further, maintaining a stable usage would be better than the exponential growth currently being experienced.

Daniel Hamad

Director Cost & Commercial +61 (0) 2 8907 8221 Ask me a question
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