Measuring electricity consumption of data centres key to reducing costs and emissions

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Measuring electricity consumption is critical for businesses to not only reduce costs but also to reduce carbon emissions, particularly of outsourced data centres.

The international accounting tool the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol categorises emissions into three “scopes”.

According to Tiny Haynes, senior director and analyst at Gartner, scope one emissions “happen as a result of a process. So for example, when you generate electricity, and data centres do actually generate electricity with their own diesel generators, when they come off the main supply.”

Scope two represents carbon emissions that are indirectly generated from purchased electricity and scope three covers all other emissions generated in the value chain.

“So end of life and the decommissioning of hardware, if it gets put into landfill, then of course, it's going to be a big emission as opposed to when you think about recycling or reusing it,” says Haynes.

For businesses outsourcing to data centres, Schneider Electric’s VP of IT Business, Joe Craparotta says that companies should consider the data centre’s sustainability metrics, and measurement capabilities.

According to Craparotta, “Do they have the technology to measure their consumption in real time and their sustainability metrics going forward? Because as we see in Australia, coming towards us are the regulatory frameworks, so that all organisations need to understand their scope one, scope two and scope three energy dynamics.” 

“In Europe, we're seeing that already being regulated. In Australia, not just yet. But I would suggest any organisation that's outsourcing really understand where you're putting your IT workload,” he says.

Leading Edge Data Centres CEO Chris Thorpe suggests that businesses need to be scrupulous about the sustainability commitments of their partners in order to better manage their own consumption across the supply chain.

“Take Schneider, for example. Obviously, Schneider is one of our major suppliers. And they work within scope one, scope two and scope three. So I think it's really you have to look at all your supplier base, as in who you're working with, and what steps they're taking sort of down the chain as to how efficient or what steps they're taking to reduce their actual energy consumption,” says Thorpe.

Thorpe suggests that renewables will begin to significantly increase in powering data centres in the coming years, especially through businesses negotiating power purchase agreements (PPAs).

“I've just seen actually, one of the largest data centres in the world globally, has just made a statement, they've partnered with some other major global brands, and they're buying, or they're negotiating a sort of power purchase agreement. And that's absolutely what we're looking at as well,” says Thorpe.

“I think renewable power, the generation of renewable power has increased significantly, just in the last 12 or 18 months. Going forward, there's a lot of supply coming into play.”

Gartner’s Haynes, highlights the significant variations in emissions generated across differing energy sources.

He told Digital Nation, “If you go for a coal-fired power station, then you're going to be looking at about a kilogram of carbon emission per kilowatt. If you look at gas-fired, it's about point four kilograms per kilowatt. And it's very negligible if you go for nuclear.”

While renewable energies are clearly the lowest GHG emitters, the challenge still surrounds predictability and storage capacity.

“So the problem with the sustainable electricity is that it's not necessarily as predictable apart from tidal, as you might think. For example, there’s a data centre which has been built in Dubai, which is using solar power, predominantly for their consumption of electricity,” says Haynes.

“The problem is, obviously it gets dark at night. And their theory is that what people are doing is that we use the infrastructure and servers during the daytime, at nighttime, they go home. So that's not much of a problem if you shut things down. So the key thing is to think about shutting down infrastructure when you don't actually need it, which will free up the energy supply.”

Despite the challenges in moving to renewables, Leading Edge boss, Thorpe is optimistic.

“There are some challenges to overcome there. But I can see this market, particularly in Australia, because we've got a large supply of sunshine that we're going to get, you know, I think the market is going to change quite significantly, over the next sort of two to three years.”

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