How do we make data sustainable? Without megawatt no megabit

Grows and inhibits growth

How can the data center industry serve both purposes? How can you grow and stunt growth at the same time? The energy and data center industry must have a good answer to that question in the near future. Furthermore, it is not only about energy consumption for data production and storage. In almost all sectors, the demand for electrical energy is increasing enormously. This presents additional challenges for data center operators: how to guarantee sufficient availability (at a realistic cost) of scarce, new energy generation?

This challenge is present in Dublin, for example: the city has grown into a major European data hub, and its data centers currently account for around 11 percent of Ireland’s energy network capacity. There is a warning that this percentage will increase significantly. Therefore, the government also has a major role in this: It sets rules and direction for the energy markets and must make complex and far-reaching decisions about how energy is produced, managed and who is given priority in electricity consumption.

Zeewolde and Meta

This is also a current issue in our country. Meta, the parent company of, among other things, Facebook, wanted to build a huge data center in Zeewolde. The tech giant already had an agreement in principle with the municipality for the purchase of 200 hectares of agricultural land, on which a data center of 166 hectares was to be built. The estimated energy consumption would be about 1,380 gigawatt-hours, which is equivalent to the power consumption of about 460,000 families. Due to opposition in the Senate and House of Representatives, Meta has decided not to build.

Data centers and their role in the energy transition

Stakeholders in the data center sector – from large technology and service providers to project developers and real estate owners – are used to always having the energy they need. However, given the explosively increasing demand in all sectors, this is no longer so obvious. The data sector may find that digitization leads to less demand elsewhere (traffic, logistics and transport), but even then the burden of data storage and traffic on the overall energy grid remains enormous. So this sector will need to take sustainability seriously, according to a study by BloombergNEF. The role of the data center must also be considered. Especially now that TenneT announced that the network was full in North Brabant and Limburg.

Also read: Who gets priority in the event of network congestion?

New standards and new approaches to data center design and operation will be required. Something must also be done about the energy consumption in the overall telecommunications infrastructure, which has an even greater energy requirement than that of the data center industry. We will use much more data in all areas, while reducing our energy needs and making them more sustainable.

Rebalancing the relationship

Aligning data and energy is a unique opportunity for the energy market. There is an excellent opportunity for data centers to renew the relationship with energy: Data centers are not only large consumers of electricity, but can also develop into locations that support the energy grid with new energy services and with energy storage and production. Think solar panels on the roofs of the centers.

Now the relationship between energy and data may be lopsided, but both must be reconciled quickly. In some cases, they will also crawl towards each other in a physical sense.

Sector coupling (interconnection of different sectors to use (green) power as efficiently as possible) is therefore an important theme for the data center industry this year. There are already examples of how this can look in practice. In the coming years, we must take great steps to rebalance the relationship between data and energy. Data centers can then be a significant part of the solution to the energy transition instead of a problem.

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