Power supply shortages in colocation hubs pile pressure on datacentre operators to go green

by Joseph K. Clark

The power supply issues that have blighted various colocation hubs across Europe in recent years are seeing datacentre operators come under growing pressure from governments and IT buyers to do more on sustainability, it is claimed.

The past 18 months have seen various colocation firms across Europe go public with plans to ramp up their use of renewable energy and take steps to curb the number of carbon emissions generated by their operations.

These efforts coincide with the European Commission publishing details of its Shaping Europe’s digital future strategy document in February 2020, which set the continent’s datacentre operators a challenge to become “climate neutral” by 2030.

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During a roundtable hosted by Docklands-based colocation provider Telehouse Europe, the company’s senior director of customer experience, Mark Pestridge, asked the panel – which included representatives from TechUK and real-estate consultancy CBRE – about the feasibility of hitting the 2030 target.

In response, Telehouse Europe’s head of engineering, Oliver Goodman, said the data center industry is well-positioned to meet the 2030 objective. Finding ways to drive up the energy efficiency of their facilities is a long-standing focus for operators.

“The datacentre industry has been talking about improving our efficiency and becoming more sustainable for 16 years, and we are well in advance of many other industries in that respect, but there is still a lot that we can do,” said Goodman.

“The 2030 goal is achievable. We are a lot of the way there, but it’s about finding the final big push as an industry so that we can say that we led from the front on it, rather than be forced, kicking and screaming, to meet the target in the final few months.”

Government and regulatory pressure to do more on green issues is one reason why so many operators are going public with their sustainability plans, said Goodman. But green issues are also becoming a top-of-mind concern for IT buyers and – in Telehouse Europe’s case – its internal stakeholders, too.

“Our customers are definitely the external driving force for our business [on sustainability issues],” he said. “The second one would be our own executive board and stakeholders, who want us to be driving that.”

Pestridge said the company is coming up against questions about sustainability from its customers “every day”, adding: “Every kind of bid we put together now has a heavy requirement to fulfill certain obligations from a sustainability and environmental perspective.”

On that point, Sue Daley, associate director of technology and innovation at IT trade body TechUK, said the looming threat of a global climate crisis is of growing concern to both IT suppliers and buyers.

“The importance of addressing climate change and sustainability issues is a key priority area for our members, as it is for the sector, and the concerns about the future of the planet and climate change are really driving it, but it’s not that we’re starting from scratch – there’s already a lot of work going on,” she said.

“There is also a huge level of ambition for what can be done, particularly being expressed by the large tech companies that are looking at their environmental impact, so there’s a real swell of focus.”

The roundtable’s purpose was to discuss the findings of Telehouse’s Vision 2030 report, which saw 250 IT decision-makers quizzed on how they think cloud, edge compute. Colocation trends will play out over the coming decade.

The report’s respondents flagged sustainability as the second-biggest challenge their organizations will need to rise to by 2030, while 86% of respondents cited it as an essential factor in their IT infrastructure decision-making processes.

More than half of the respondents said they were confident that the data center sector would hit the European Commission’s 2030 climate-neutral objective.

In the meantime, the sector has some more immediate challenges on the sustainability front that it needs to be mindful of, said Penny Madsen-Jones, director of Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) datacentre research at CBRE.

The colocation industry is going through a prolonged growth spurt, fuelled in no small part by the near-insatiable appetite of the hyperscaler cloud and internet giants for datacentre capacity within the significant European datacentre hubs, she said.

With a growing number of data centers now drawing power from the grid, power supplies in some locations are becoming acutely squeezed, which may have a dampening impact on the sector’s growth potential in the future.

Expanding on this point, Madsen-Jones said CBRE data suggest an additional 109MW of datacentre capacity will come online within the London market during 2021, followed by a further 177MW the following year.

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