Sustainable data centre. Ten years to achieve climate neutrality. What are the solutions?

Bruno Fery, Head of Data Centres, EBRC
By SmartCities 29/03/2021
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Eco-efficient data centres: greening an energy-hungry business

In 2018, they represented some 2.7% of total electricity consumption in Europe (i.e. 76.8 TWh). By 2030, they will have to be climate neutral. This is the challenge that the European Commission has issued to the data centres of the 27 Member States. Some, such as EBRC had already begun to make the switch. The company operates five data centres in Luxembourg and is a true pioneer in the adoption of eco-efficient technologies. Here, Bruno Fery, Head of Data Centre Services, talks about some of the solutions that will help to achieve this ambitious European objective.

The new challenge set by the European Commission is in line with our CSR policy.

Sustainability and data centres. How to achieve the European ambition of climate-neutral data centres?

The objective of "climate neutrality” implies that any persistent emissions can be compensated for or upgraded. To achieve this ambitious and necessary goal, old and new generation data centres will need to be super-efficient and be able to use the excess heat they generate. This will inevitably require greater investment. 

Improving energy efficiency when cooling data centre servers

It will be a priority to further improve the technical energy efficiency of data centres by continuing to optimise server cooling techniques, using new air and liquid-based technologies.

The Smart Green Grid: a collective solution to help the greening of European data centres

In terms of green solutions, increasing the use of renewable energy will also be essential. As some regions have easier access to these energy sources than others, it will be useful to have a European "Smart Green Grid". This would be an interconnected network featuring renewably generated electricity that each data centre could use. This would make it possible to eliminate disparities between European regions.

Incorporate data centres into research and community planning projects

Recent research and development into "green hydrogen", and work towards electrical energy storage in high performance batteries are also potential solutions over the medium and long term. In addition, future data centres should be located in communities, as part of urban development projects, with internal and external energy production systems integrated and consolidated with data centres.

IT developments to be studied for a resolutely sustainable data centre

Obviously, IT will have to change in other ways. For example, allowing higher temperatures at entrances to the servers can have a huge impact on data centre efficiency. The European Commission's Code of Conduct on data centre energy efficiency (EBRC has been a participant since 2010) recommends temperature values above 30°C, and that new server technologies should be able to withstand this level of heat. It is possible that new innovations may appear more quickly at the IT level than for infrastructure.

Environmental impact of data centres vs. reduction of digital carbon footprint

Finally, it should be noted that analyses that point to 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions being generated by digital services fail to take the whole picture into account. For example, the significant fuel savings achieved this year from teleworking are not reflected in these calculations. This is just one example of how digitalisation generates indirect energy savings that must be taken into account.

Since 2000, EBRC has been a pioneer towards the design and operation of a sustainable data centre

The new challenge set by the European Commission is in line with our CSR policy. We made considerable effort to limit our carbon footprint, as can be seen by the numerous awards and certifications we obtained, including those related to environmental management (ISO 14001) and energy management (ISO 50001).

Energy management monitoring and control: key elements for the achievement of sustainable projects 

14% reduction in EBRC's carbon footprint since 2010

Energy management monitoring and control can be automated in real time. As early as 2007, we devised an energy saving programme, and then signed up to the voluntary FEDIL agreement on efficient energy use. Over the 2010-2016 and 2017-2020 periods, we reduced our carbon footprint by 14%. This was helped by us using new efficient technologies such as “Kyoto Wheels” (an air-cooling system that operates with almost no energy input for 85% of the year) and "Turbocor" (refrigeration machines with magnetic bearings that offer performance coefficients up to six times higher than traditional refrigeration production systems, when operating at average load).

Energy efficiency considered from our data centres’ design stage

Free-cooling and free-chilling solutions are often favoured when the design and modernisation of our data centres is considered. We also use variable frequency drives that adapt the fan speed to the data centre load and use cold aisle containment.

Heat pump and solar panels for an environmentally friendly data centre

For our Kayl Data Centre, we use heat pumps to heat the entirety of the neighbouring building, which hosts several POST Group companies including Editus, InTech, and i-Hub . All of these systems, which allow us to reduce or enhance energy use, have been powered for years entirely by electricity from renewable sources.

In addition, we have installed solar panels on the roof of the Kayl data centre, and more are planned for the first quarter of 2021 at our Windhof data centre.

Eco-greening continues with rainwater storage

In addition, we store rainwater to supply the air-conditioning systems, thus reducing the use of water supplied by utility operators.

Of course, as well as the technical infrastructure, our IT teams select eco-efficient application solutions and servers to make our centres even more efficient.

"Climate neutral data centre 2030": how does EBRC see this European objective?

EBRC is a true pioneer in the use of technologies and solutions which reduce the carbon footprint of our data centres. It is clear that we still have a long way to go to reach the objective of climate neutrality, but it is a challenge that motivates us, and is in line with our culture of the pursuit of excellence.

Our efforts are significant and ongoing, as is our willingness to invest in new solutions and our people’s skills as we strive to take the full measure of our environmental responsibilities.

Our green expertise linked to our goal of carbon neutrality is widely recognised for its sustainability know-how.  

We await the European Commission’s precise definition of a data centre, which should feature criteria related to the size and power. Will a company with a small in-house data centre also have to comply with this climate neutrality requirement? If so, the easy solution for these mini-data centres would be to be hosted by large operators such as EBRC.

Entering this new market is an opportunity. Thanks to its twenty years of experience, EBRC offers its know-how through its consulting services to companies and organisations in Luxembourg and France. For example, this is currently the case for the University of Strasbourg's data centre.