The data center environmental impacts on climate change have garnered significant public and regulatory attention. In recent years, major companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon have voluntarily committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Green Data Centers Reduce Data Center Environmental Impacts
The energy required to keep these data centers running is significant because it represents a large percentage of global energy consumption and emits greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, which results in global warming.
This is problematic because while it has been shown that IT devices do not directly emit carbon dioxide (CO2), they are responsible for as much as 30% of the CO2 emissions that come from non-industrial sources such as commercial buildings and even transportation. This is primarily because these devices are powered by electricity generated from fossil fuels which are burned to create steam for cooling purposes. Many large organizations are turning toward “green data centers to reduce their carbon footprint.
In addition to electricity consumption, other factors outside our control contribute to a data center’s environmental footprint. These include air conditioning loads required to cool servers and associated equipment, the type and amount of fuel used for power generation, and any GHG emissions produced by fossil fuels burned during the construction of new facilities or adding capacity to existing ones (EPA).
Data Center Eco-Design Criteria
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that data centers account for 2% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with more than half coming from the electricity used to power and cool the facilities. The EPA is concerned about this sector’s environmental impact and has launched a voluntary program to encourage businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas output.
The EPA’s program includes a set of metrics called “Eco-Design Criteria,” which outline four categories that data centers can focus on to make their facilities more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. These categories include:
- Building Design and Operation: This category focuses on the efficiency of data center facilities and buildings, including strategies for heating and cooling, energy controls, and power management. It includes green data center operational strategies.
- Processes: This category focuses on the efficiency of the IT equipment itself, including strategies for minimizing power consumption by servers and storage devices.
- Infrastructure: This category focuses on the effect of data center infrastructure on climate change, including strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the facility site, such as by powering with renewable energy sources or eliminating waste heat production.
- Supply Chain & Maintenance: This category focuses on the efficiency of all inputs needed by data centers, including components, services, supplies, and waste.
Data center cooling systems consume much electricity and create a lot of waste heat that must be removed before the remaining heat can be reused or dissipated into the environment.
Green Data Center Operational Strategies
A green data center incorporates technologies and operational strategies to improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact. Green data center active strategies can help data centers reduce their ecological impacts. The industry is making great strides in the greening of data centers.
The Uptime Institute has outlined four operational strategies for green data centers:
Conduct a Green Data Center Assessment
Conducting a Green Data Center Assessment and making changes can help you improve efficiency and reduce costs while improving your organization’s bottom line.
However, as with any other data center, a green facility design must support the required business applications. The design process should consider the potential use of green technologies and incorporate them into the build-out.
Choose the Right Power Source
Choosing the right power source is crucial in planning your data center. There are two main categories of power supply: utility power and on-site generation.
If your business is building a new data center, you’ll have the choice of several different types of generators, including diesel, natural gas, and fuel cells. Each type will impact the environment differently, but all will have an impact.
Plan Intelligent Cooling Design
Green data center operational strategies aim to reduce the amount of electricity and other resources wasted in the data center. One way to reduce the data center’s power consumption is to plan an intelligent cooling design.
The key issue with designing a cooling system is determining how to effectively direct cool air where it’s needed while also managing hot-spot temperatures. Excellent airflow should pass over all surfaces in the data center because only then will all hot spots get sufficiently cooled down.
It’s vital to have equipment that automatically detects any hot spots and redirects airflow until temperatures are comfortable.
Monitor and Manage Carbon Footprints
Monitoring and managing the carbon footprint of your data center is an important step in reducing the effects of climate change. While it might not seem like your data center has a large carbon footprint, the amount of energy required to run computer systems can be astonishing.
Take into account all the servers, equipment, and support staff needed to keep a data center running, and it’s easy to see how a single facility can use a significant amount of power in a year, quickly racking up a carbon footprint.
Data center managers need to know the carbon footprint of their operations. It includes energy used and purchased directly by the data center but also from a broader perspective that consists of all indirect energy use and the energy used by end users.
As we understand the impact of climate change, more people are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Data centers, which use much energy and power, have a larger carbon footprint than most other types of businesses. Fortunately, we can take many steps to help reduce the environmental impact of data centers.
Since many organizations are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, tracking down indirect energy use is critical for assessing progress toward lowering overall energy usage.
Identifying an area that needs improvement and then taking action on that knowledge can be very empowering; once you have completed developing a green data center strategy, you will see many benefits associated with this practice.