Diana Yusupova
Linxdatacenter's financial analyst
24.08.2022

"Greening" data centers - utopia or near future?

In the last decade, the environmental aspects of business have been gaining relevance, reaching a peak in 2019. But today, in conditions of economic and political instability, businesses have more substantial goals - to survive, which will significantly limit the costs of ensuring the greening of production. However, the crisis will pass, but the problem of limited non-renewable resources will remain.

An environmentally sustainable business causes minimal damage to the environment in the course of its operations and takes advantage of a number of opportunities to restore the ecosystem of the region.

At the level of companies providing data center services, an eco-approach can be defined by a conscious approach to energy consumption, reuse of resources, proper disposal of equipment, rejection of environmentally hazardous production and introduction of environmentally friendly technologies.

Parameters of the environmental friendliness of the data center

The modern era is characterized by processes of globalization and constant digital transformation, which leads to an increase in the information generated. In 2020, each person on the planet created 1.7 megabytes of information every second. By 2025, according to a Raconteur study, the projected amount of data generated daily will be 463 exabytes worldwide.

The growth of information creates the need for data centers. Many different indicators are used to assess the environmental friendliness of data centers, the most common of which is PUE. It is defined as the ratio of the total total capacity of the data center to the capacity of IT equipment (servers, storage, etc.).

The closer the indicator is to 1, the more efficiently electricity is consumed. According to Uptime Institute research in 2020, the average PUE value in Russia is 1.6; globally, it is 1.59.

In addition to PUE, important indicators of green data center are CUE (Carbon Usage Effectiveness), REF (Renewable Energy Factor), WUE (Water Usage Effectiveness), which characterize the efficiency of carbon, water and availability of renewable energy sources.

"Green Centers in the World

Scandinavian countries have the most environmentally friendly data centers. The cold Scandinavian climate makes it possible to provide data center cooling systems from renewable resources.

One of the most environmentally friendly data centers, Green Mountain's Stavanger, is located in Norway. To provide continuous cooling, the company uses natural and cold water from deep Norwegian fjords, which enters the cooling station by gravity (without additional power).

A significant impact on the environment is the carbon footprint, which is quite high in the data center industry due to high and continuous energy consumption. According to Our World in Data, the use of electricity and heat emits the largest amount of carbon dioxide, significantly outpacing industry and transportation.

Green Mountain data centers are 100% powered by hydropower, so the carbon footprint of these data centers will be zero. The company's data centers have a PUE of less than 1.2.

The example of data centers in Norway shows that "green" data centers are feasible under certain climatic and technological conditions, and their operation is possible without a significant negative impact on the environment. How applicable is this to the Russian Federation?

Eco Data Centers in Russia

In Russia, the themes of sustainable development in the field of ecology are not very popular, the state policy is focused on economic growth. By and large, the introduction of "green" projects in Russia is solely the initiative of companies.

Nevertheless, there are green data centers in the country. The most striking example is the Yandex data center in Vladimir. Its PUE is 1.1, the lowest in Russia. Such figures are achieved due to the geographical location of the data center, energy savings are achieved through a special cooling system and efficient power supply from the nearby unified power system station.

Yandex had one successful project to build a green center in Finland. The cooling system for server equipment in Mänsälä is designed in such a way that servers are cooled naturally all year round, and after passing through the server area and thus heating up, the air passes into heat exchanger chambers and then into the city network, heating residential buildings.

But now the data center is disconnected from external power by the Finnish energy company, forcing Yandex to run diesel generators and incurring huge losses. The heating of residential buildings, which had been working properly before, had to be turned off.

Thus, the green initiative, which was successfully launched by Yandex, brought the company financial losses, and diesel emissions significantly polluted the environment and negated the positive effect of optimizing energy consumption processes.

"Greening up" or not?

Successful experience with the use of renewable energy and the absence of a carbon footprint is possible, as exemplified by the experience of Norway. However, how successful the experience of designing a data center with environmental factors in Russia can be, is not an easy question. Everything is exacerbated by the political situation in the world, the Yandex data center in Finland is a prime example.

Additional motivation for Europeans to "green" production are high prices for electricity, the introduction of a carbon tax and government policies aimed at encouraging the development of green solutions for business.

The average price per kilowatt hour in Russia is one of the lowest in the world, so business in Russia is rather careless about electricity consumption. Nevertheless, it is the opportunity to reduce costs that motivates the introduction of environmental initiatives in data centers, but only those that do not require significant costs at the initial stage.

Such solutions include free-cooling, which is being actively implemented in data centers by most companies on the market. At the moment, free-cooling remains one of the most affordable and environmentally friendly options due to the fact that current problems with equipment slow down the introduction of new, more environmentally friendly solutions. The departure of a number of manufacturers from the Russian market forces businesses to switch to domestic equipment, the environmental friendliness of which is significantly lower.

At the moment, the state does not provide sufficient financial support for green projects, obtaining grants to cover a significant portion of the costs is a complicated procedure that does not guarantee success, and the current economic situation forces businesses to worry more about survival than about green solutions and preservation of natural capital.

Forecasting the future situation on the data center market, it should be noted that a significant part of Russian high-tech companies will freeze current green projects.

Thus, the process of "greening" data centers in Russia is not yet economically profitable and relevant, because the substantial investments that are required to implement such projects, companies will have to cover at their own expense, without state support.

The projected reduction in revenues of the vast majority of Russian companies makes this process even more difficult - now businesses must first of all "stay afloat" by adapting to the new conditions. Only after that can we talk about the greening of production.

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