Green Signals

Growing use of renewable energy in data centres

The global demand for data is growing at an unprecedented pace as digitalisation enters almost every facet of life. The Covid-19 pandemic with its successive waves and lockdown restrictions further drove people towards a more remote and internet-dependent lifestyle. Offices and boardrooms have been replaced by home desks and laptops, more and more people now prefer online delivery applications for virtually everything and online str­ea­ming services have taken over the en­tertainment space. Digital tools such as ar­t­ificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, cloud computing and remote monitoring systems are now being incorporated into all spheres and sectors. The power sector, including renewables, is also becoming more digitalised and automated.

In this increasingly data-hungry world, there is a rising demand for data centres that can process and store this data. In a country like India that boasts of one of the highest numbers of smartphone users, data centre capacity is expected to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years. JLL estimates that India’s data centre ca­pacity will double from 499 MW IT load as of September 2021 to 1,007 MW IT load by 2023. On the downside, as the data centre capacity increases so will the po­wer requirement.

Data centres consume a lot of energy and account for roughly 1 per cent of global el­ectricity use, as per the International En­er­gy Agency’s recent statistics. In fact, ac­cording to research by think tank En­ergy Innovation, the world’s biggest data centres were consuming more than 100 MW of power individually in 2020. Thus, as the demand for these energy-guzzling data centres increases, it becomes critical to create greener and more efficient infrastructure that can offset the rise in energy demand and its related carbon footprint.

Green data centres have already started gaining traction globally and companies are increasingly opting for renewables to meet their power demand. Further, efficiency improvements in data centre infrastructure and related systems, the growing share of efficient cloud and hypersca­le data centres, and the use of AI to control and optimise the cooling requirements of data centres are also helping to control energy demand.

This article focuses on the green energy initiatives of some data centre companies operating in India…

Bharti Airtel

In January 2022, telecom major Bharti Airtel announced the commissioning of a 21 MW captive solar power plant in Bhul­dana, Maharashtra. This solar power project has been set up by Airtel in partnership with Avaada for supplying renewable energy to Nxtra by Airtel’s large and edge data centres and switching centres in Maharashtra. The company has a target to source more than 50 per cent of the po­wer requirements of its data centres through renewable energy sources in the next 12 months.

Prior to this, Nxtra by Airtel had commissioned two captive solar power units of 14 MW at Tilhar and Begumpur, to meet the power requirements of its core and edge data centres in Uttar Pradesh. Earlier, Air­tel had acquired a 26 per cent equity sta­ke in AMP Solar Evolution, and the Tilhar project was the first of the two solar plants set up by the company in partnership with AMP Energy. Airtel is already aligned to the Paris Clima­te Accord. It has also joined the Busi­ness Ambition for 1.5 °C campaign of the Scie­n­ce Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), with targets to reduce its carbon footprint and emissions from its network operations. The company has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and plans to achieve this through several interventions such as green energy adoption across its network operations, energy efficient infrastructure and processes, as well as implementation of sustainable business practices at its workplaces.

Apple

As early as in 2018, Apple, the global tech company manufacturing iPhones, iPads and MacBooks, among other products, had achieved 100 per cent renewable en­ergy usage for powering its global facilities, comprising retail stores, offices and da­ta centres across 43 countries including the US, the UK, China and India. Now, it plans to become 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2030 by helping its manufacturing partners reduce their carbon footprint under its Supplier Clean Energy Progra­m. As such, by 2030, every Apple device sold will have a net zero climate impact.

CtrlS

Hyderabad-based data centre company CtrlS has installed a building integrated so­lar plant at its Mumbai data centre. This 1.3 MW solar plant generates 1.8 MUs of po­wer per year and helps offset CO2 emissions by 620 tonnes per year. As part of its plans to further green its operations, the company is implementing captive solar po­wer plants with a total capacity of 200 MW.

Meta

Meta (formerly known as Facebook) has already achieved 100 per cent renewable energy usage for its global operations and is one of the largest corporate buyers of renewable energy in the world. Its website reports current contracts for more than 6.1 GW of wind and solar energy across 18 US states and five countries. In the data centre space, it is implementing se­veral energy efficient measures to re­duce energy consumption. The company has hyper-efficient open compute project servers that can operate in a higher temperature environment, which lowers the amount of energy needed for cooling. In fact, Meta data centres can reportedly be cooled us­ing outdoor air instead of energy-intensive air-conditioning units. The company’s data centres are currently be­ing supported by over 3.4 GW of renewable energy projects, according to its website.

In India, the company (then Facebook) sig­ned a deal with CleanMax in April 2021 to buy renewable energy from a 32 MW wind project being developed in Karna­ta­ka. The project is now operational. Clean­Max owns and operates the project while Fa­cebook purchases electricity off the grid through environmental attribute certificates or carbon credits. According to a company sta­te­ment, this project is part of a larger portfolio of wind and solar projects that the two companies are working on together, whi­ch will be located at Face­book’s facilities and will help power the company’s data centres. In another initiative, Meta is working with local utilities to help create green po­wer programmes that allow customers to purchase renewable power at a certain gr­e­en tariff. This helps in promoting renewable po­wer up­take. Meta has pione­ered six su­ch green tariffs to support its da­ta centres. Meta is also connected to various re­ne­wable energy networks such as the Rene­wable Energy Buyers Alliance, RE-Source, and RE100, which are committed to promoting clean power development.

NTT

Global data centre player NTT is rapidly expanding its renewable energy capacity to meet the power needs of its growing data centre operations. Its first 50 MW ca­ptive solar power plant was set up in So­lapur, Maharashtra, in collaboration with the Tata Power Renewable Energy Co­m­pa­ny. The project caters to the energy ne­eds of its Mumbai data centres. The company is reportedly implementing another 50 MW solar project as well as a hybrid renewable energy project to cater to its energy needs. Reports indicate that the company also sources renewable energy through the open access route to meet its power needs in a few cities.

RackBank

In August 2021, RackBank Datacenters Limited signed an MoU with ReNew Power as a part of which ReNew will supply rene­wable power to RackBank’s hyperscale data centre in India based on a power purchase agreement. ReNew will construct, co-own and operate a hybrid power generation facility specifically to supply power to RackBank’s data centre and RackBank will purchase green power from this facility directly from ReNew through the open ac­cess mechanism. RackBank expects to re­duce its power costs by 30 per cent th­rough this partnership.

STT

Singapore-headquartered ST Telemedia Global Data Centres’ India unit procures 34 per cent of its power from renewable sources, as of 2021. It aims to increase this number to more than 50 per cent of re­­ne­wable energy procurement over the next few years. The company entered into a partnership with Avaada Energy last ye­ar to procure 99 MUs of renewable en­er­gy for its Maharashtra facilities.

Outlook

With a growing portfolio of services and applications on offer, the digital customer base in India is widening rapidly, and so is the technology to cater to it. This is creating a massive demand for data centre ca­pacity, leading to a spike in power de­ma­nd. In this context, it becomes imperative to step up the use of green measures in or­der to meet the power requirements of this energy-intensive infrastructure sustainably. Data centre companies have started pro­cu­ring renewable energy for powering their operations to some extent. Newer pl­a­yers are also opting for renewable po­wer for its obvious benefits. For instance, AdaniCon­neX, the 50:50 joint venture of Adani En­ter­prises and EdgeConneX formed in Febru­ary 2021, plans to develop and operate date centres throughout India that will be largely powered by renewable energy. This helps them to, on the one hand, reduce their operating costs and on the other, portray a greener image to customers.

Overall, data centres with their large power requirements and huge scope for renewable energy uptake are poised to become a large stand-alone market for clean energy players in the coming years.

By Khushboo Goyal

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