Greener Data Centers in Québec
Good for the Planet and Your Bottom Line

By Eric Lafrance, Senior Delegate – Business Development, Hydro-Québec

Published in Issue 5 | December 2020

The world is heating up, and big power consumers like data centers have an opportunity to be part of the solution. Québec can deliver big payoffs, not just for the environment but for your pocketbook, too!

Along with death and taxes, there are two other certainties these days: COVID-19 is still out there and climate change is still going strong. What’s the connection? Simply put, the virus is forcing people to spend more time at home and turn increasingly to electronic media and the Internet for their entertainment and other needs. As a result, energy use is up, driving climate change even faster.

Where is that power coming from? The graph on the left shows how the world’s electricity is generated today.

“Houston, we have a problem!”

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that the situation is not sustainable. At the same time as climate change is exacting rising human and environmental tolls, 64% of the world’s energy is generated by fossil fuel—a non-renewable resource that is also the main source of greenhouse gas.

All that carbon is released into the atmosphere, feeding and accelerating climate change. It’s not a pretty picture. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly warned that global warming must be capped at 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels. All though other industries may be bigger power consumers, couldn’t and shouldn’t data centers be doing more? Can data centers go green and become game changers in this global climate crisis? And, can they find a way to do all that while maintaining—or even raising—profit margins?

It’s time to rethink the industry model

Discarding obsolete paradigms—like the narrow, unwavering focus on short-term profits and the prohibition of the border crossing of non-sensitive data—is a first step in the search for solutions.

Faced with the major investments required to build and operate solar and wind farms, short-term profit is an understandable concern. But as Gary Cook of Greenpeace’s Clicking Clean stated in a 2019 interview, the benefits of a longer-term focus should not be ignored: “I think we have seen too much focus on short-term causes instead of the long-term value being created by companies. . . Ultimately, if you look at what is happening with climate change and the concern you see growing every single day from students up and down the line, if you want to make an investment that has long-term value, you [have to] make sure you are solving this equation. Otherwise, you could have stranded assets, and customers will start going to someone else who can actually solve this for them.”

Similarly, efforts to prevent non-sensitive data from crossing borders make little sense. Fully 80 percent of Internet traffic is media content (music, movies, pictures, etc.). There’s no need to store such non-sensitive data in areas where fossil fuels dominate. That’s especially true when neighboring jurisdictions have plenty of affordable clean power available.