According to estimates from 2020, data centers around the world utilize about one percent of all electricity generated. While this may not sound like much, it’s important to look at the raw numbers as well. The best estimates in 2018 placed global data center energy consumption at about 205 terawatt hours (TWh), which was more than the total power used annually in highly industrialized countries (for example Sweden, which consumed 123 TWh in 2020).
But despite the drastic increase in digital services and applications over the last two decades, data centers have not seen their share of energy usage accelerate along with it. From 2007 to 2020, the average power usage effectiveness (PUE) of the largest data center operated by many organizations plummeted from 2.5 to 1.59.
A History of Data Center Sustainability
This generally positive trend was the result of two successive waves of data center sustainability movements. The first step was the transition away from outdated, poorly designed, and generally inefficient on-premises facilities into more modern colocation and cloud data centers. Simply migrating assets out of these environments produced huge power efficiency gains and cost savings, especially when it was also combined with a consolidation of sprawling deployments that managed extremely inefficient workloads.
The second sustainability improvement has played out over the last decade as colocation and cloud providers doubled down on automation and AI technologies that allowed them to drastically reduce cooling costs. Cooling infrastructure has long been one of the culprits of data center power consumption, but a new generation of DCIM software and innovative cooling solutions have allowed organizations to scale their capacity without gobbling up a larger share of electricity.
The Limits of Efficiency Gains
But as impressive as these gains may be, there are still harsh realities to be faced when it comes to total power consumption. According to simulations run in a 2021 study on data center electricity needs, could reach 321 TWh in 2030 if all existing growth factors remain the same. When accounting for the growth of the industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and the potential end of Moore’s law, that number could skyrocket to 752 TWh, or 2.13 percent of all global electricity.
These predictions echo a 2020 finding by the Uptime Institute that the average data center PUE of 1.58 has essentially flatlined since 2013. While the latest and most efficient facilities using the most advanced technologies can get that number as low as 1.2 or 1.4, there are still thousands of older facilities that operate at much less efficient rates. Furthermore, there seems to be little reason to hope that data centers will be able to consistently get closer to 1.0 PUE. Even if they could, no amount of efficiency can overcome the sheer quantity of electricity needed to keep these facilities up and running.
Data Center Sustainability 3.0
In order for data centers to take a significant step toward combating energy usage in the coming years, they will need to combine their efficiency goals with an effort to become carbon-neutral and make better use of more sustainable sources of renewable energy.
Europe’s Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, launched in 2021 and now supported by dozens of major providers, is one such example of how data centers are exploring ways to embrace true sustainability in the future. The pact set a number of efficiency and green energy targets in response to the European Union’s commitment to become climate-neutral by 2050, many of which include innovative solutions like integrating data centers with growing smart grids, investing in ways to convert wasted heat into an energy source, and making more efficient use of water (including revising and refining current water usage effectiveness [WUE] metrics).
Green Powered Shell Data Centers
For organizations looking for a custom data center solution that provides maximum flexibility and the very latest in engineering and infrastructure, build-to-suit powered shell offerings are an increasingly attractive alternative. Far more economical and less capital intensive than building a standalone facility, powered shell solutions are ideal for hybrid deployments that keep essential data and workloads on physical servers in a private data center.
More importantly, build-to-suit data centers can also take advantage of the very latest in renewable energy and sustainability practices. An efficient facility equipped with AI-powered DCIM capabilities can also be designed to incorporate behind-the-meter, carbon neutral solutions that generate renewable energy on-site to lower the data center’s dependency on fossil fuel energy. As more organizations look for ways to minimize their carbon footprint, green powered shell facilities will become much more attractive from a sustainability and peace of mind standpoint.
Explore Evoque’s Build-to-Suit Capabilities
In addition to managing some of the world’s most energy efficient colocation facilities, Evoque Data Center Solutions is pioneering a new way forward with its build-to-suit solutions for enterprise, hyperscale, and government customers. Making these powered shell projects as sustainable as possible was one of our primary goals in developing the service. Benefiting from the extensive experience with sustainability of our parent company Brookfield Energy Partners we are proud to be going to market with our green powered shell build-to-suit offering. Together, we’re working toward building a more sustainable vision of tomorrow’s data center.
To learn more about our innovative build-to-suit solutions, talk to a member of our data center build team and tell us all about your data center and application needs.