Data Centres and ICT are quickly gaining relevance in the climate change discussion. Here’s why.

Data Demand

The Data Centre and Information and Communications Technology space is rapidly growing with the increased use of the internet. Nearly half of the entire population of the world are connected to the internet, with 27,000 new users coming online every hour.

More people are using the internet than ever before.

Over the past decade, the number of users on social media has also drastically increased, with over 2.4 billion users using some form of social media as of 2019. As most of us are aware, most of these platforms are being accessed on mobile devices which are now shifting towards 5G connectivity in most of the developed world (5G mobile broadband is expected to account for 60% of all mobile connectivity by 2027.

Social media platforms are major users of Data Centres

Handling all of this traffic requires significant innovation and capacity, especially while considering that the world consumed an estimated 97 zettabytes of data in 2022; a figure which is forecast to increase to 181 zettabytes by 2025, this is an astonishing 87% growth in 3 years, 30% average growth per year. 

To support the rapidly growing digital economy, more and more data centres must be built with high enough capacity and bandwidth to enable to continuous growth. In the United States alone, it is estimated that data centres will reach a capacity of 2,825MW by 2027

Energy Demand

Data Centres, including those built for crypto mining, consumed 460TWh of power in 2021, which accounts for nearly 3% of the world’s energy usage. The global ICT sector already accounts for 8% of global energy consumption, and this demand for energy supply will increase parallel to the increased demand for Data Centre capacity and internet connectivity; it is estimated that by 2030, the ICT sector will account for 21% of the total global energy demand.

This naturally raises eyebrows as energy consumption accounts for 76% of the world’s CO2 emissions which would place Data Centres and ICT responsible for 16.2% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, up from 4% currently; ultimately shining a spotlight on Data Centres and how they impact Climate Change.

The Renewable Solution

The worst-case scenario above doesn’t consider the balance of renewable energy consumed by Data Centres – renewable energy is a sector which is also rapidly changing and advancing on a yearly basis. Global net renewable energy generation is expected to continuously over the next 25 years, with the aim of 75% renewable energy consumption across the grid.

This higher balance of renewable energy consumption can have a hugely mitigating impact on the carbon footprint of Data Centres, some of which are already powered by 100% renewable energy and others making commitments to Net Zero Emissions targets. By simply making the source of energy consumption greener, the Data Centre industry would rapidly reduce its impact on climate change. 

Data Centres can also be a source of power to the electrical grids, thus contributing to the reduction of demand on non-renewable energies. A study, executed by BNEF and Eaton, indicates that there is a huge amount of stranded power in Data Centres in the form of backup power systems (such as UPSs). 

Although coming hand in hand with complications surrounding SLA’s and logistics, is estimated that in Ireland, UK, Germany, The Netherlands and Norway, 16.9GW of stranded power could be flushed back into the grid, contributing to Europe’s growing renewable energy production, aiming to reach 56% renewable generation of the total electricity demand by 2030. Yet another massively mitigating climate conservation action. 

In any case, green energy sourcing is just a beginning towards building a true Circular Economy in the Data Centre sector and fulfilling The United Nations’ SDG (Sustainable Development Goals). Many other factors, such as as best use of energy, minimising water consumption, minimising waste, recycling and environmental disposal processes, utilising construction and equipment with less CO2 emissions are all part of the major plan.

Measuring where you are, setting the goals and defining a roadmap to achieve them is what  CIRKLA’s new “360 Data Centre Circular Economy Audit and Certification” program offers.

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