New emissions reporting scheme for European datacentres approved

As of September, datacentre operators must provide data on multiple sustainability metrics

Penny Horwood
clock • 5 min read
  New emissions reporting scheme for European datacentres approved

As the power demanded by datacentres escalates, accurate data on the industry’s collective carbon footprint is vital if we are to decarbonise the digital economy.

The European Commission has given the go ahead for a new, mandatory reporting programme which will form part of the EU Energy Efficiency Directive (EED). The EED aims to reduce energy use by 11.7% by 2030, and subsequently cut carbon emissions across Europe by 55% by the same date. 

The reporting scheme will apply to datacentres larger than 500KW (for context, this is every datacentre bar edge and small retail colocation facilities,) and will require operators to report on the sort of sustainability metrics that Computing requests from them every year when we conduct our cloud sustainability research. These include:

  • Installed information technology power demand
  • Total floor area
  • Computer room floor area
  • Total energy consumption
  • Total energy consumption of information technology equipment
  • Waste heat reuse

These are all critically important metrics if your goal is to assess the sustainability of a datacentre. Cloud hyperscalers and some smaller providers often provide an average Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) by way of an indicator of efficiency but this is a wholly inadequate metric (which is one of the reasons that as of this year, Computing isn't using it.) 

PUE is no longer a useful metric 

PUE simply measures how much power is consumed by the computing equipment itself in a datacentre, as opposed to consumed by cooling, networking or anything else. In the last few years, the vast majority of datacentres, particularly hyperscale facilities, have a PUE so close to 1 that it's made meaningful comparison impossible. All PUE tells us is that the computing is taking up a much bigger share of overall power consumption than it used to. What is doesn't tell us is how much power those servers are consuming or how efficiently they consume that power.

Moreover, the original purpose of PUE was to be a metric of progress on an individual datacentre level. It was meant to be measured at regular intervals so you could meaure progress towards greater efficiency. It was never intended for comparison between different datacentres, but that's exactly how it's ended up being used.    

More meaningful is Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE) which divides carbon emissions by energy output. Computing now requests this metric as part of our sustainability research but these new requirements would make possible to calculate CUE even if the operator chooses not to make the calculation themselves. CUE is useful because it indicates how efficiently an operator is using carbon. The less carbon generated, the closer to zero the number gets. It's still far from ideal as a comparative metric between different operators but again, it's useful to track progress of a facility over time.  

An even more useful metric which should be possible to calculate under the new directive is TUE which is obtained by multiplying IT power demand by PUE.  

What the new reporting metric should be able to identify is a clue to the degree of underutilisation of servers, due to either badly configured servers or a deliberate policy of underutilisation – or both. These practices are horribly wasteful and incredibly commonplace in the datacentre industry. 

Rich Kenny is Managing Director at Interact DC, a specialist in hardware optimisation, carbon reduction and circular economy. He is optimistic about the prospect of improved transparency encouraging greater efficiency. 

"The key shift is the inclusion of the two IT metrics of ITEE (Energy Efficiency) and ITEU (Utilisation)," he says.

"For the first time the regulation will require reporting on how well the equipment is being configured and bought but also how efficiently and effectively it is being used."

Rich Kenny, InteractDC

"For too long the industry has looked at the building and not the provision of services and the EED should lead to the much-needed transparency and cooperation between building providers and the IT and service functions. My hope is that in the next 18 months the focus becomes on significantly improving ITEE year on year, rather than micro improvements elsewhere, as this is the area with the highest potential on reducing environmental impacts and energy consumption."     

Renewable energy scrutiny

It will also be mandatory for operators to show how much of their renewable energy is generated onsite and how much comes from PPAs and REGOs. You can view an explanation on the murky world and carbon markets and the contractual instruments used to stand up ‘powered by renewable energy' claims here. Suffice to say, more scrutiny is long overdue. 

Water metrics are also required such as: 

  • Total water input
  • Total potable water input

In fairness, many datacentre operators already provide this data, but what interested parties will now be able to do is calculate measures such as Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) by taking the overall consumption and dividing it by the kilowatt hours of the IT equipment itself. 

Industry pushback 

Some parts of the datacentre industry aren't thrilled about the directive. CISPE.cloud is an organisation which has a stated aim of giving a voice to cloud infrastructure services providers in Europe. That voice was obviously heard by the EU Commission because the original reporting deadline was pushed back from 15th May to 15th September in 2024. It will revert back to May in 2025. 

In its consultation response CISPE said:

 "CISPE members are concerned with an unrealistically short timeline to prepare for the first reporting cycle and consequently to measure and report the data.

"With the delay of the overall process of introducing the delegated regulation and inclusion of additional reporting requirements that were not previously presented for analysis, we consider that the industry is not provided with sufficient time to prepare adequately."

Smaller players may find it more challenging to pull this data together, but the cloud giants already have much of this data. Sharing this data with the aim of governments, corporates and, ultimately, consumers making more informed choices about the sustainability of the services they consume is one more small step towards wider decarbonisation. 

As the power demanded by datacentres escalates, accurate data on the industry's collective carbon footprint is vital if we are to decarbonise the digital economy. As the old adage goes, if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.   

 

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Penny Horwood
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Penny Horwood

Associate Editor focusing on diversity in tech and sustainability content.

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