But all that information must live somewhere. After all, when we store our personal photos or company accounts in the Cloud, those files aren’t being sent to a mythical virtual realm, they are going to remote computer servers housed in buildings known as data centres.
The general rule of thumb is that data centres draw around 3-4 per cent of the total energy generated in a country. This is equally true of Australia, and each year this energy consumption continues to grow exponentially. At first glance, the most straightforward solution to reduce this level of energy consumption is to stop using data centres.
However, to live in the real world we must face up to the fact that data driven items are a part of our modern way of life, and therefore data centre demand will only increase.
This not only presents an environmental challenge, but an economic one too; how can this new asset that is quickly becoming a necessity going to be built and managed, and where?
Recommendations to solve pollution issues were once viewed in the same way, however, early efforts to use an “end of pipe” solution (build the chimney higher or put a filter on the end of the pipe) have matured with more efficient means to reduce, reuse and recycle. The same principles and process needs to take place in the data centre industry.
A potential solution to lessen the environmental impact, and potentially cost, of these energy hungry giants could be renewable energy. However, this may not be practical.
Until the renewables industry plays catch-up with their technology, storage and distribution, there are plenty of alternative strategies, with minimal capital expenditure, that data centre operators can pursue to reduce their energy consumption – and consequently improve their bottom line in the process.
With the main energy use of data centres attributed to cooling, there are several location – and climate-driven building fabric selections and optimisations that can be made to minimise heat gain from the outside.
This is particularly critical in Australia, wherein we experience extreme and prolonged high temperatures in comparison with cooler countries growing at an equally fast pace such as the UK.
For a cooling driven load, the solar absorptance of the roof should be as low as possible, and light colours should be selected.
The result is a lower proportion of the total incident solar radiation being absorbed by the roofing material. Insulation levels however should be modelled using real weather data and optimised against the deemed-to-satisfy National Construction Code provisions.
It is important that fabric options are reviewed and assessed for both annual energy consumption impact and peak cooling load for the location specific climate data.