Today, one of the biggest industry challenges is the storage, access, and processing of the ever-increasing volume of data. Technology has diligently strived to cater to our demands and desires, consuming substantial volume of conventional power, leading to inadvertent increase in carbon emissions. By implementing sustainable computing practices within data centres, the overall energy efficiency and carbon footprint can be improved, leading to a more environmentally friendly digital ecosystem.
The Environmental Impact of the Rapidly Growing Streaming Industry
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) study, every hour of OTT streaming causes 36 grams of carbon emissions. The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators report released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) states that India has 850.94 million internet subscribers dated Sep-22 (Broadband and Narrowband combined). If 50% of these subscribers watch 1 hour of OTT daily, it can potentially result in 5.6 million tons of carbon emissions annually. This staggering figure is equivalent to a container ship traveling at 20 and 25 knots per hour for 8,717 days i.e. approximately 24 years – calculated basis Greenhouse Gas Emission from a Typical Passenger Vehicle.
Explosive Growth in Data-Intensive Activities Spurs Global Demand for Data Centres
The surge in data-intensive activities such as streaming, augmented and virtual realities, and gaming has created a massive demand for data centres worldwide. To meet the growing needs, data centres are being rapidly built to accommodate the increasing volume of data and provide seamless experiences to users. Data centres, designed to handle extensive data storage and processing, consume substantial amounts of power. Notably, the largest data centre in Hohhot, China, spreads across 10 million square feet and consumes 150 MW of power. Data centres currently account for 1% to 3% of the world’s total power consumption and contribute up to 3.7% of global carbon emissions—surpassing the global airline industry. The projected doubling of data centre capacity within the next 5 to 7 years will further increase power consumption.
The Call for Carbon Neutrality: Measurement and Improvement Efforts
Given the circumstances, the urgency for data centres to become carbon-neutral is greater than ever. Many operators, including colocation operators and Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, have committed to achieving Net Zero carbon emissions. These companies are signing renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs) to support their sustainability goals. However, the central government must also provide incentives and access to renewable power to aid data centre operators in their Net Zero commitments.
To achieve Net Zero carbon emissions, data centre operators are actively working on improving various aspects. Technological advancements have led to improved Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), reducing it from 2.5 to around 1.5 in recent years. Singapore has set the benchmark at 1.3 PUE for constructing new data centres. While improving PUE and sourcing renewable power is essential, it cannot attain Net Zero carbon emissions in isolation. Optimization of Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) and overall, Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE) also need to be measured and improved. This trinity of measurement should be the new standard for green data centres.
Google reported the consumption of approximately 4.3 billion gallons (16.3 billion litres) of water by its data centres in 2021. While Google has committed to replenishing 120% of the water they consume, a commitment from all data centre operators towards a reduction in WUE would also be needed.
India’s Renewable Power Generation and Commitment to Net Zero:
India, a leader in renewable energy production, has surpassed countries like the USA and is the world’s third-largest producer of renewable energy. The share of renewable power in India has increased from 36% to 41%, with a target to generate 50% of power from renewable sources by 2030. This progress places India in a favourable position to support data centres’ sustainability objectives through the use of renewable energy sources.
While the commitments towards Net Zero carbon emissions from most operators in India are encouraging, there are still many challenges on the path ahead. Similar to data centre operators, the end customers of data centres may also have Net Zero commitments. These customers may demand requirements in terms of MEP equipment, sourcing of raw materials, etc., based on their Net Zero commitments. Such requirements can directly impact the capex and operating costs for operators.
India has ~1.5 GW of new supply in the pipeline, and the landbank with operators can potentially add another 3 GW of supply. While India is focused on increasing renewable energy generation, the capacity addition may not keep pace with data centre deployments, thereby delaying the Net Zero targets.
In the face of increasing data demands and the environmental impact of technology, data centre operators must prioritize sustainability to ensure that their data centres are not only green and carbon-neutral but also monitor their entire supply chain to truly achieve Net Zero carbon emissions.