A Balancing Act

While we can’t reduce our reliance upon data, we can create sustainable data center solutions that reconcile the needs of humanity with that of the planet.

Wherever you call home, regardless of your business, and whatever your political persuasion, I strongly believe we can all agree that fighting climate change and advancing sustainability are vital aspects of safeguarding the future of the planet, and ensuring a shared prosperity. Climate change extends not only to the rising average temperatures that we refer to as global warming, but also to the phenomena of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, wildlife migration, and a host of other repercussions.

Because renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydropower don’t produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, governments around the world have established policies to increase the use of these renewable sources. In the U.S., 29 states have already mandated renewable portfolio standards that require that a certain percentage of energy be sourced from renewables. According to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, the portion of renewable energy that makes up the U.S. energy mix has grown from nine percent in 2008 to 18 percent last year.

Corporate giants, too, are buying into green energy in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. Walmart, the largest private employer in the U.S., recently announced that it wants to secure 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Anheuser-Busch is striving to reach 100 percent by the same year. And General Motors has plans to go completely green by 2050.

Granted, much of this renewable energy growth has been spurred by regulatory incentives. However, the majority of the growth is being dictated by market forces, as consumers across a range of industries are increasingly pressuring organizations to become more responsible stewards of the environment. Sustainability has become a critical litmus test by which a business is judged by its customers, workforce, society, government, and even its investors. Hence, environmental responsibility has become a competitive advantage for companies that embrace sustainable energy policies.

According to PwC, the largest professional services firm in the world, “As sustainability moves up the boardroom agenda, it is increasingly being integrated into corporate level strategic planning. Management now needs to balance increased regulation, protecting the brand and ensuring stable supply chains, with seeking opportunity for enhanced performance and using the sustainability agenda for strategic advantage.”

Sustainability and the Data Center

While both sustainability and renewable energy derive from environmentally-focused perspectives, sustainability sees the planet as a limited resource and advocates greater efficiency so that operations can be maintained indefinitely. Meanwhile, renewable energy is a method of energy production that does not exhaust the planet for energy generation because it uses resources that can be continuously replenished.

Andrew Schaap, CEO, Aligned Energy

Last year, the top four users of renewable energy in the world were Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Google announced two years ago that all its data centers were running on 100 percent renewable electricity. Amazon Web Services exceeded 50 percent renewable energy for its global infrastructure in 2018, and has made a long-term commitment to achieve 100 percent. Microsoft reached 50 percent renewable energy last year and plans to shift its data centers to 75 percent renewables by 2023, and 100 percent in the next decade. And since 2014, all of Apple’s data centers have been powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

Making data centers more energy-efficient is simply smart business and not just for hyperscalers, but across the industry. It takes an enormous amount of energy to power and cool a data center. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. is home to approximately three million data centers, which combined consume more than two percent of the nation’s electricity. The DOE also found that if all the data centers in the nation were 20 percent more efficient, they could collectively save more than 20 billion kilowatt-hours by next year, resulting in approximately $2 billion in cost savings.

In view of the increasing globalization of commerce; the accompanying digital transformation of business; and the staggering increase in the world’s data, which IDC predicts will surge 61 percent from 33 zettabytes (ZB) last year to a 175 ZB by 2025, now is the time for the data center industry to elevate its commitment to environmental stewardship.

But for the data center community to become a change agent for sustainability, it will require a cultural shift not just in the board room or C-suite but throughout organizations at every level. Aligned Energy is one such company that is committed to solving the world’s most formidable sustainability challenges associated with data center infrastructure, energy consumption and water usage. Aligned is backed by Macquarie and the Green Investments Group, which are pioneers in the world’s transition to a low carbon economy. Since 2010, Macquarie has invested more than $20 billion in green energy in the U.S. alone.

Aligned Energy’s adaptive data center platform is focused on helping companies achieve greater business value with less costly energy and infrastructure resources. Sustainability is, and will always be, at the core of what we do. An essential element of Aligned’s adaptive data center offering that demonstrates our commitment to sustainability is our patented, award-winning cooling technology, which utilizes up to 80 percent less energy and 85 percent less water. In addition to reducing resource usage, this mitigates environmental impact and lowers the Total Cost of Operation (TCO). Moreover, our cooling systems deliver efficiency at any load, in any climate, and regardless of location to support firms’ sustainability goals.

As humankind embarks upon the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a global transformation that will involve the proliferation of IoT-enabled devices, artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, robotics, and smart city systems and applications – we cannot reduce the amount of data these technologies will generate, nor our increasing dependence on them. But we can and must strive to engender innovative technical solutions, including data center infrastructure, which will balance the needs of humanity with that of the planet.