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Clean Energy: Key to Data Center Sustainability

May 14, 2015  |  Written by Digital Realty

If you were to imagine the entire digital universe as one giant body, the world’s 8 million data centers are its skeleton, providing the framework for today’s digital world. Data center facilities all over the globe supply the connectivity, storage, and compute resources for powering everything from e-commerce transactions to software development and testing.

In this context, it’s no surprise that demand for data center space continues to climb, albeit at a time when many organizations are also pursuing corporate social responsibility programs with green initiatives. How can the world’s growing appetite for data centers be squared with this desire to ensure sustainability? Aaron Binkley, Director of Sustainability at Digital Realty, has taken up this very topic in his white paper, “Powering the Green Data Center: How Renewable Energy Creates Sustainable Results,” which is now available for download.

Clean energy becomes competitive: What it means for data center operators and customers
Data centers present a natural opportunity for sustainability improvements, since they typically use large amounts of electricity. The Natural Resources Defense Council has estimated that by the end of the current decade, U.S. data centers will consume energy equal to the annual output of 50 coal-fired power plants. Going forward, how can data center providers keep their electricity usage in check?

Aaron looks at some of the popular approaches to reducing power consumption in data centers, including the use of free air cooling (instead of or as a supplement to energy-intensive fans) as well as hot/cold containment aisles. But the bigger change on the sustainability front, he argues, is the increasing practicality of clean energy as an alternative to grid-sourced electricity.

Clean energy from sources like wind and solar infrastructure is no longer a small-scale novelty but a realistic option for even the largest and highest performance data centers. The reliability of clean energy is evident in the facilities of hyperscale organizations such as Apple, which has been getting 100 percent of its data center electricity from renewables since 2010.

This figure is particularly impressive when one thinks about the scale of something like iCloud or iTunes. Apple’s approach has demonstrated how multiple sources – wind, diverted irrigation water, geothermal, etc. – can be deployed simultaneously for maximum reliability and cost-effectiveness.

Speaking of which, Digital Realty conducted a clean energy analysis that found that sourcing wind power for a facility in Texas was only 1.4 percent more expensive than using traditional utility-supplied power. Clean energy is becoming a smart option for any data center.

A glance at what Digital Realty is doing to make its data center portfolio sustainable
Digital Realty has been at the forefront of promoting clean energy in its 129 facilities around the globe. Our Clean StartSM program, for example, allows clients to switch to renewables for a year at no added cost. We have also been involved in U.S. government efforts to make buildings more energy-efficient

To find out more about the rise of clean energy and what Digital Realty is doing to help its clients with sustainability, download Aaron’s white paper.

Jeff Baumgarten, VP of Global Marketing (@jb_tricendent)