Net Zero – 100% Decarbonization

We experience climate change worldwide, and there are no single signs of it, it is everywhere and every time. And carbon plays a big role in the change. Around 80% of the produced energy of the world come from fossil fuels, but there are two problems: the plants of this world are no longer able to cope with the amount of carbon, and the resources are getting smaller. We need to stop carbonization (1, fig. 1)!

Digital processes, technique and approaches helps the reducing, but there need to be more. To talk about what could be done and was done already several experts met at the Net Zero & Sustainability European Data Centre Summit this year. (2) The experts came from three different continents to discuss this global concern and to share experiences and solutions. In focus of the summit was the approach of 100% fossil free energy for data centers and the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact. (3) Data center and the connected network need a lot of
Net Zero – 100% Decarbonizationenergy for their digital offerings – scalability, reliability, security, resilience, …

Net zero becomes a buzzword during the last year, but what does it means in the area of data centers? Susanna Kass from the UN defined based on the 17 global goals (4): net zero means for data centers that the resources are zero carbon/fossil, the center emit zero emissions and produce zero waste. Renewable energy needs to be the primary source, therefor clean energy grids are necessary! To gain net zero data centers the whole environment, network, infrastructure, collaborations need to function together. On base of the goals that means you achieve goal 7 (affordable and clean energy) only in combination with goal 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action) and of course 17 (partnerships for the goals, fig. 2)!

Important aspects are also the IT infrastructure of data centers with storage and network and their energy efficiency, and sustainable buildings, grids, usage of materials, and recycling the heat or waste.

The goal should be for data centers to become net zero as soon as possible, but there are many steps to go to aim this goal and some of these steps took a long time. What are these steps? Do energy policies help? They do, they force all company on the track, but more important is to be transparent about the consumption, the accounting, and the reporting of it. To make the compliance of the policies of one company visible to all help other companies to collaborate, to follow, and to become compliant, too. And only transparency helps to verify carbon neutrality or sustainable solutions. One issue for data centers is, of course, that they depend on the whole environment: is enough renewable energy available? Is there a possibility to use the heat?

Another way a lot of companies, not only data centers, are going right now is to buy a compensation to green-wash their statistics, but they are still producing carbon emissions, and there is no proof for the compensation at all! So, the panelists agreed, that this is no viable way to aim the net zero goal.

The whole industry is asked to reduce their emissions and the data centers are leaders in this area, but the change must happen in the society and industry. There need to be a change of mindset as well. The usage of energy must be coordinated with the availability of renewable energy, so the processes and workloads have to be adapted to this. But the customers of data centers expect 24/7 availability and scalability, this will be a challenge during the next years. But this is meant by changing the mindset in the whole society, also the customers need to change their mind, processes, and usage. And the panelists agreed that therefor governmental policies are needed, the motivation for self-regulation of companies and people is in most cases not high enough. But maybe this works only for Europe, but Europe is the place where energy efficiency is forced. First steps are gone with extension of digital infrastructure, but we should not stop here. Net zero needs to become a global goal in the end.

But also, data center specific topics were discussed like cooling with water. All these water-cooling technologies (reck, chip, …) are lowering the PUE (5) and allow to use the waste heat. These systems are not very common in data centers but helps with the net zero strategy. Challenge for these systems are the installing costs and the building efforts with water recourses, pipes, and concept for heat usage. Especially for existing data centers. But becoming carbon neutral is something what require effort.

The summit happened on the earth day and that fits perfectly. Experts from the whole planet were gathered to share their concerns and ideas. Climate change applies all of us and we need to act. Thanks to the Data Center World and the Uptime Punks for hosting the panels of excellent speakers, who all transported the serious situation but stayed optimistic.


Friederike Zelke