The world is being submerged in “greenwash”: most notably in the form of solar panels that harvest more in subsidies than they generate in electricity and wind turbines that barely generate enough electricity to boil a kettle. And yet, when a glitzy new data centre is opened, a big show is often made about how environmentally friendly it is, with prominently placed solar panels and wind turbines – which could only ever meet a fraction of the energy such places typically consume.
“Given the power that is required by these buildings, a few solar panels are not going to make a significant difference, especially in winter,” says Cyrille Brisson, EMEA business unit manager at power management specialist Eaton Corporation.
If an enterprise genuinely wants to power its data centre using renewable energy, then it should do what Apple has done, says Brisson, and build the wind or solar farm to supply it separately in a more appropriate location. Alternatively, they could source their power exclusively from renewable energy providers.
Data centre power consumption is a growing problem. According to chip maker Intel, data centres consume about 1.5 per cent of the world’s electricity output, costing $27bn and generating 210 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Vendors and major data centre users alike, therefore, have increasingly focused not on “green” power generation, but on power consumption: in terms of both the core computing technology, as well as the cooling of the servers.
Social networking giant Facebook, for example, has started custom-building its own servers, publishing a reference design under the Open Compute Project banner. It claims its new data centres are not only 38 per cent more efficient, but also 24 per cent less expensive to build and run than other data centres as a result.
The trouble is, says Steven Campbell-Ferguson, an associate director at architecture and engineering consultancy Arup, that many companies over-specify their power consumption and, therefore, their cooling requirements when it comes to designing new data centres.
“From my point of view on the design side, the two things I need to know from clients are how much power they need for their equipment in kilowatts and how much space they need for their racks,” says Campbell-Ferguson.