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Navigating the Path to Net-Zero for Data centres

The data centre sector is anticipating more formalised legislation around the 2030 goals to come into effect from 2024. At Deerns, we are helping our clients anticipate an uncertain future through our expertise.

The significant electrical infrastructure of data centres, particularly at hyperscale level, is a product of necessity. Market demand for new technologies mean that global organisations like financial institutions are now investing massively into AI infrastructure, which requires new or retrofitted facilities. With increased workloads, higher densities and innovative new racking solutions being developed, clients need to plan for a complex range of criteria.

The Path to Net-Zero

The power consumption of data centres varies markedly but can reach 100 MW per facility. By way of comparison, a small town of sixty thousand residences typically consumes approximately 30 MW of power. Interestingly, the data centre sector has recently surpassed even the Aviation industry in terms of emissions production.

The considerable heat generated by data centres has a direct and adverse effect on their immediate surroundings. Whether this heat is released into the atmosphere via air cooling methods or transferred to water bodies such as rivers, ponds, or oceans through water cooling processes, the resultant environmental impact is substantial, warranting legitimate concerns from the environmental sector and governments.

To overcome these challenges, data centres must commit towards a Net-Zero trajectory. Although developing Net-Zero data centres will not be fully attainable for some time, it is imperative to initiate this journey due to compelling pressures stemming from both current and future legislative mandates, industry certification requirements and the need to improve operational efficiency.

Point of Departure: Identifying the Sources of Emissions

Emissions spanning the complete supply chain are categorised into three distinct types:

  • Scope 1 Emissions refer to direct greenhouse gas emissions that originate from sources owned or controlled by the data centre.
  • Scope 2 Emissions are indirect greenhouse gas emissions tied to data centre electricity consumption provided mainly by utility companies or external sources.
  • Scope 3 Emissions are indirect greenhouse gas emissions stemming from data centre activities but not directly controlled by it.

These emissions take place in the broader value chain and include various sources such as:

  1. Upstream emissions: including the extraction, production, and transportation of fuels and energy used by the data centre.
  2. Downstream emissions: including emissions resulting from product or service use by data centre customers.
  3. Supply chain emissions: including emissions from the production and transportation of materials, equipment, and other goods used in the data centre’s operations (such as from manufacturing servers, networking equipment and cooling systems).

Scope 3 emissions are often the most extensive and challenging to quantify as they involve a complex network of external activities and stakeholders related to the data centre’s operations.

Here’s where we plan for the Future

While a lot of highly innovative work is happening within the sector, much of it is taking place in silos. At Deerns, our multi-disciplinary team collaborates closely with our data centre clients to gain a comprehensive understanding of existing reporting methods used to monitor their emissions. In instances where an established reporting framework is lacking, we have the capacity to provide support in this sphere.

The process then advances to scrutinising existing assets, with an emphasis on identifying avenues to enhance sustainability and, if required by the client, aligning with green certifications such as LEED and BREEAM.

From there, a comprehensive Feasibility Study is undertaken where we assimilate all data and information generated. This may also include additional recommendations for enhancing the efficiency of buildings and sites, new ways of working, adopting new technologies such as next-generation IT servers, and integrating carbon offsetting solutions.

The Feasibility Study is the first step on the path to Net-Zero. It empowers the data centre operator to formulate a well-informed sustainability vision and to develop an appropriate plan of action to take their operations forward appropriately as they move towards their 2030 goals.

We are also looking at the evolution of the data centre and the net commercial viability for new sites. How can operators manage their infrastructure and balance their energy generation, storage and use across sites? Is there an opportunity for data centres to become another source of power within a wider network? These questions can only be addressed in discussion with governments and communities.

Supporting our Clients every Step of the Way

With our unparalleled international experience in data centre engineering, we know that resolving complex and multi-level emissions control challenges requires a holistic approach.

In navigating the path to Net Zero, we recommend the following approach:

  • Energy Efficiency Solutions: energy audits provide an opportunity to make recommendations on optimising energy consumption, which may include strategies for cooling, power distribution, lighting, and equipment selection.
  • Renewable Energy Integration: adopting renewables such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power helps clients to align with ESG environmental goals and curb their data centre carbon emissions.
  • Sustainable Design and Construction: sustainable design and construction solutions may include integrating green materials, energy-efficient technology, and sustainable building practices.
  • Green Certifications: more and more clients are pursuing certifications like LEED or BREEAM to showcase their dedication to environmental sustainability.
  • Waste Management: waste strategies are essential to sustainable operations and include minimising, recycling and managing operational waste responsibly.
  • Social Impact: ESG encompasses business’s social dimension via fair labour practices, community support, and workforce diversity and inclusion.
  • Governance and Compliance: robust governance structures and ESG-aligned policies ensure transparency, accountability, and adherence to regulations and standards.
  • Reporting and Communication: ESG reports convey sustainability initiatives to stakeholders, investors, and clients.

By applying our expertise strategically and cultivating relationships, we are able to effectively guide data centres on their challenging, but exciting, journey to Net Zero.

Let’s talk

Jonathan Clark

Data Centre Sustainability Lead