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A Blueprint for Data Centre Sustainability Amid an Evolving Regulatory Landscape
March 29, 2022 Blog

Authored By: Michael Kurniawan, Business Vice President, Secure Power Division, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei – Schneider Electric

The IT sector has a long history of being one of the most heavily regulated industries. From electrical and safety standards to ensuring that equipment can be recycled, compliance with this constantly evolving regulatory landscape is a major challenge for industry players including data centre operators. With the criticality of data centres gaining attention in headlines, and as discussions around how to address the current climate crisis pick up speed, data centre operators can expect to be impacted by the evolving regulations and sustainability goals of a country.

Today, data centres represent 1–2% of total global electricity consumption. As the acceleration in digital transformation and automation continues all around us, we can expect the demand for more IT compute capacity and more data centres to increase over time. The resource consumption and carbon footprint of data centres however, has attracted the attention of governments and climate “watchdog” organizations.
The fact is, data center sustainability remains a work in progress. The lack of environmental awareness, lack of investment and lack of collaboration from stakeholders have often been cited as key challenges to making data centres more sustainable. This has, in turn, prompted lawmakers to act and review ways to curb the environmental impact of data centres through regulation.

Evolving Regulations in Building a Greener Future

In Singapore, for example, a moratorium on new data centres was put in place in 2019, while the government conducted its review of how to grow the industry in a more sustainable manner. The government has since highlighted that Singapore plans to be more selective in its data centre investments.

Most recently in March 2022, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, Dr. Janil Puthucheary, acknowledged how data centres are “vital nodes in the flow of digital traffic,” powering many applications and services each day, including eCommerce transactions. However, he flagged that data centres are intensive users of water and electricity. Given Singapore’s limited resources, there is, therefore, a need to develop data centre sustainably. In line with this, a call for application will be made in the second quarter of this year, to facilitate the growth of greener data centres packed with energy efficient and decarbonisation technologies.

With the rapid acceleration to a more automated and more digital world, efficient and reliable data centres are at the heart of the green future. As our lives are increasingly online and our digital footprint expands, so too will the need for greener data centres. Proactively building greener data centres in accordance with government policies will become critical to ensuring that the carbon footprint from data centres is well-managed.
A Five-Step Sustainability Blueprint for a Green Data Centre

As data centre operators try to navigate the evolving regulations, while keeping up with an increase in demand generated by our digital-first world, there are tangible steps that they can take to achieve a holistic environmental sustainability approach.

  1. Set a bold actionable strategy. Use a data-driven consultation approach to create an actionable strategy and reach climate and sustainability ambitions. Ensure you are leveraging data for optimisation, analytics and reporting. While government regulations set the minimum bar for sustainability compliance within data centres, climate commitments are becoming increasingly expected by employees, customers and investors. For example, while a goal of carbon neutrality was once a differentiator, we must recognise the potential to drive even greater impact with carbon negative operations.
  2. Implement efficient data centre designs. Utilise an architectural approach to create customised, efficient, repeatable, serviceable, vendor-agnostic data centre designs, keeping in mind compliance, transparency and higher environmental performance of products
  3. Drive efficiency in operations with software and digital services to enable remote monitoring capabilities. Optimise the lifespan and efficiency of your systems by defining a clear strategy for maintenance and modernisation to optimise the lifespan inclusive of recycling services for end-of-life products to ensure circular economy best practices.
  4. Buy renewable energy (PPA and Onsite). Explore a custom renewable procurement strategy that includes microgrids, PPAs, VPPAs, energy-as-a-service and EACs. For example, DuPont has recently signed a virtual power purchase agreement (VPPA) with a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC for new wind energy in Texas. The VPPA will deliver the equivalent of 135 MW of new wind power capacity or approximately 528,000 MWh of renewable electricity annually and will address DuPont’s Acting on Climate goal of reducing absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30%, including sourcing 60% of electricity from renewable energy by 2030, and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
  5. Decarbonise supply chains. Evaluate your Scope 3 footprint, identify and execute strategies to meet decarbonisation objectives, utilise digital performance tracking and reporting for your decarbonisation program. For example, major oil and gas company Chevron had its board vote to reduce Scope 3 emissions on an absolute basis, reducing the total by 40% by 2030.

Sustainable business practices are on track to becoming standard business, and some may argue they already are. Besides being the best path towards addressing the most pressing issue of our time, they are often the best solution from a business standpoint. Data centre operators should therefore adapt to changing government regulations, and take it as a timely opportunity to embrace a greener future and push the boundaries of their sustainability commitments.