As we rang in another New Year – and the start of a new decade – the bushfires spreading across Australia showed little sign of fizzling out.
Shortly after, meteorologists including the UK Met Office and NASA confirmed that the decade up to the end of 2019 was the hottest the world has ever seen. In fact, 2019 was the second warmest year globally since records began in 1850.
While we shouldn’t jump to conclusions and automatically link the two statements above, it’s indisputable that the debate about our environment has reached a tipping point. Many institutions and governments now accept we’re in the midst of a climate emergency.
There’s no place to hide for any of us working in the data centre industry. Despite significant progress in recent years improving efficiency across the entire server room, from power through to cooling, we’re already seen as something of a “bogeyman”.
Data centres across the world burn through 400-500 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity a year. That’s roughly the same as the whole of the UK.
It’s a much-repeated statistic, but it’s predicted the industry will account for a fifth of global energy use by 2025. While processing and storing data produces 3-4% of all CO2 emissions, more than global aviation (2-3%).
Energy Use On The Rise?
According to the Uptime Institute, 65% of the power used in data centre IT accounts for just 7% of the processing work due to the inefficiencies of ageing equipment. Recent gains in mechanical and electrical efficiency have stalled.
As we enter the 5G era, the already stratospheric demands placed on data centres will continue to grow. Just think, every time football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo posts an update on Instagram, his 195 million-plus followers consume 30 megawatt-hours (Mwh) of electricity to view the content.
The Uptime Institute warns that this growing demand will “substantially outpace the gains from efficiency over the next five years, resulting in steadily increasing energy use” across the sector.
You might think this article has taken something of a “glass half empty” approach so far. It’s important to acknowledge the many steps our sector have taken to try and minimise our environmental impact. There have been huge technological gains with uninterruptible power supplies alone.
There’s the growth of more efficient transformerless models. Then there’s the rise in modular UPS systems that reduce the risk of wasteful oversizing. In addition, many modern UPS now incorporate several special operating modes and features designed to minimise energy use.
We shouldn’t forget the positive role UPS can also play in smart grids and energy storage. It’s up to businesses like us to convince data centre operators that embracing battery storage will deliver environmental and performance benefits.
Small Changes Add Up To Big Gains
When it comes to the environment, much of the focus inevitably goes on the bigger picture – the ground-breaking innovations with the potential to have a huge impact.
But it’s often the lower-level adjustments that drive the fundamental behavioural change that we as a society must embrace.
Here at Riello UPS, we take our environmental responsibilities seriously and commit to cutting our carbon footprint wherever it is practical to do.
Before Christmas, we banned plastic drinks bottles and gave all our 70-plus team reusable stainless steel bottles as an alternative.
We’ve also swapped our milk supplier and now have a special chiller that holds fresh milk in a recyclable cardboard box lined with a Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) bag that can be used to generate energy from waste. This means we don’t need to buy plastic cartons or bottles. It also helps to cut milk waste.
Based on our current milk consumption, we’ll save nearly 600 bottles and 30 kg of plastic waste a year.
Our efforts to eliminate single-use plastics stretch to us ditching disposable plastic cups in favour of ceramic containers, swapping plastic water bottles for visitors with a water dispenser and glasses and replacing plastic stirrers with an organic bamboo alternative.
Moving forward, we’ll also withdraw advertising support from any magazine publishers who don’t switch from plastic polybags to sustainable alternatives such as potato starch-based wrapping or biodegradable paper.
In isolation, these measures might appear small. But it’s a start. A single plastic bottle takes up to 450 years to fully decompose. It’s simply not an option to sit on our hands and do nothing.
And if 10% of the data centre industry, or 20%, or even 50% follow our example and make practical changes to their day-to-day operations, then we’re talking about something that’ll add up and make a massive difference.
From the biggest technological innovations to the smallest changes in daily routines, 2020 is the year for the data centre sector to take our fair share of the responsibility for safeguarding our planet for many years to come.