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Energy efficiency to be the primary focus of the data centre industry

Research house Anthesis has said that data centre power consumption is projected to increase to roughly 140bn kilowatt-hours annually by 2020, requiring the equivalent annual output of 17 new power plants and emitting nearly 150mn metric tons of carbon pollution annually.

As more devices come online, thanks to the ‘Internet of Things’, the stress on data centres will only intensify.

In just one measure of how much room there is for improvement, a study from IT research group Info-Tech noted that just 36% of a typical centre’s power consumption is used for network hardware and server processing and storage.

The rest – 64% – is expended to cool the servers, power lighting and in power supply conversion loss.

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In fact, installing energy efficient systems can lower a centre’s energy use by up to 40%, said Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers.

Unsurprisingly, with this in mind, many companies globally are looking to reduce their data centre energy consumption and create efficiencies.

“I think energy efficiency is always going to be a primary focus in our industry,” said Peter Giles, Senior Data Centre Manager at Paddy Power Betfair.

“Reductions will always be sought in power consumption and carbon footprint.”

In order to encourage organisations to reduce their carbon emissions, some governments have turned to taxes – the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme in the UK is one example.

However, data centres in the UK can apply for climate change agreements (CCAs), effectively reducing the amount firms pay in carbon-related taxes if they promise to deliver a certain level of emissions reductions.

This is a rather more incentive-driven approach to achieving the same result.

Data from OECD suggests that the UK is home to 60% of Europe’s standalone data centres, between 250 to 300 sites. Including co-location sites adds a further 217 facilities, highlighting the need for emissions to be reduced.

All of this feeds into the aims of the Climate Change Act, which requires that UK emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 are reduced to at least 80% below 1990 levels.

Likewise, Australia’s Emission Reduction Fund has committed the government to reduce carbon emissions by 5% below 2000 levels in 2020, regardless of what other countries do, and preferably by up to 15 or 25%, depending on the scale of global action.

These targets will require cutting expected emissions by at least 23% relative to business as usual in 2020

“Increased power fees and tax on emissions help and by having these in place it will ensure that they always stay at the forefront of people’s minds and a top industry agenda,” Giles said.

“Renewable energy as well will in turn see a reduction in the demand for fossil fuels and this obviously needs to be a major focus.”

According to a white paper from Digital Realty, by 2020, data centres in the US alone are projected to consume electricity equivalent to the output from 50 large coal-fired power plants.

Renewable energy will indeed be a major focus in the industry.

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