When it comes to figuring out how to run a sustainable business, Has more experience and expertise in the datacenter industry Compared to the average enterprise at its disposal, but operators are still running on complaints green wash while working toward their net-zero goal.
In recent years, hyperscale has gone public with many promises to datacenter operators Shrinking the environmental footprint of their operationsMake a time-sensitive commitment to ensure their sites run exclusively on renewable energy for years to come.
And While the datacenter industryOverall, while great strides are being made towards becoming more environmentally friendly, there is a disconnect between operators’ sustainability ambitions and their ability to deliver.
“The sector has multiple challenges to overcome when trying to build green datacenters,” Pankaj Sharma, global executive vice-president of secure power at multinational energy management company Schneider Electric, told Computer Weekly.
“First of all, if you want to build a datacenter where your primary energy source is from a green grid, you’re limited in where you can build it because not every grid on the planet is green.
“Assuming you find it, operators will want to confirm the technology [inside their datacentres] Totally green – and that includes infrastructure, software and computing.”
He continued: “The third challenge is around redundancy and alternative sources [of energy] Being used as backup, which must be green and cannot be fossil fuel. And that means operators need an infrastructure supported by renewables.”
Another thing operators need to keep in mind is that the further their sites are from the grid, the more energy is lost during the transmission process in the form of heat and electrical resistance in the network.
“The biggest challenge is transmission loss, because the further you are from the grid, the higher the transmission loss. So, even if you have a green grid but you’re 200 miles away, that’s a potentially big loss.”
Trying to overcome these hurdles while achieving green goals has created a “sustainability gap,” leaving the datacenter industry open to unfair accusations of greenwashing, Sharma said.
“From a sustainability perspective, I think the datacenter industry is doing a better job than some other industries, because it’s not a very old industry … and energy efficiency hasn’t been as much of a focus for other industries as it has been. for datacenters,” he says.
Pankaj Sharma, Schneider Electric
That said, datacenter operators are under enormous pressure from clients and investors to make public announcements about how they plan to make their operations lighter and greener, because – as Sharma says – “if you’re not sustainable, you can’t survive. Can not” an organization”.
He continued: “It’s not like five years ago, when no one cared about sustainability like it does today … What’s happening now is a lot of companies are making promises, but don’t really know how. [deliver on] Those commitments.”
And this lack of knowledge means they may be at risk of over-committing and under-delivering on their green goals because the technology they need to achieve them has not yet been invented. Likewise, people with the knowledge needed to guide them to achieve their sustainability goals are in short supply.
“The pressure is on for us [datacentre] Clients from investors and from customers, and greenwashing is happening now because suddenly they have to be sustainable. People have promised. The big question is, do you have a plan – and do you know how to execute that plan? he said.
“Do I think the industry is deliberately greenwashing? I hope not, but it is certainly a real problem today that needs to be dealt with very quickly.”
Especially as the validity of the approach some companies rely on to become carbon-neutral entities is increasingly being questioned, Sharma continues. A prime example of this is the “carbon credit” scheme that some enterprises rely on to offset their emissions.
The owner of these credits is usually allowed to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, and they can sell any credits they don’t use to other companies that may need some additional rebates on the emissions they produce.
“There’s a lot of conversation these days about carbon credits – if you run a carbon-neutral operation, you can sell your carbon credits to me, and if I don’t have a carbon-neutral operation, I can use the carbon credits to meet some of my emissions targets, ” said Sharma.
“As good as that sounds, the reality is my operation is still not being carbon neutral – I’m just buying a credit and using it to my advantage and paying to buy that credit, right?”
Conversely, real progress is being made on making the underlying infrastructure of datacenters greener, he said, pointing to the work Snyder has done to eliminate the amount of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) greenhouse gas emissions generated by server farms.
This gas is typically used in the medium voltage switchgear components of datacenters’ larger power infrastructure, but Schneider has since developed a version that relies on fresh air to run.
“SF6 gas is at least a few thousand times worse than carbon dioxide emissions, so we built switchgear that would run on the air we breathe,” Sharma said.
“We have done a lot in greening power distribution setups. We are now developing much more efficient uninterruptible power supply systems that use 30% less material that come in green packaging and they [play into] circular economy as well.”
He continued: “For a datacenter client, if they can build one [underlying] Infrastructure that can count on green and above, that is also green, and to the point where they can power their sites with renewable energy, then they can more easily move towards being carbon neutral.”
Finding people with the right skills and experience to help datacenter operators achieve their sustainability goals can also be a challenge, but Sharma is confident it will get easier in time.
Attract new talent
Currently, the datacenter industry is grappling with a well-documented and growing skills gap, as not enough young people are looking to pursue a career in the field, but many of them are taking a keen interest in the field. Durability
“We have very good experts in the datacenter industry today, but it’s an aging population, so bringing in the next generation was becoming difficult. And it has a knock-on effect on the entire industry,” he says.
“The good news now is that sustainability is top of mind for everyone, but especially where the younger generation is concerned. The ease with which we’ve been able to convince people to move into that industry is greater than ever before, so I think we have a skills gap today. [in the datacentre world] Maybe – in the next decade – will start to close.”
This observation is based on the feedback Sharma has received while traveling to universities and talking to students who are pursuing qualifications in fields related to what Schneider Electric does.
“As part of my role, I travel around the world and talk to graduate students and explain to them what you can do with Schneider Electric and how it can make a connection between power electronics in space and saving the planet,” he said.
“There is a direct connection and that story is changing quite a bit now. Yes, we have a skills gap today, but I think we’re going in the right direction to fix it.”