Traditional vs. Green Data Centers: Why Going Green May Be More Cost Efficient

By Green Edge Compute November 3, 2021

Having impacted the environment negatively for several years, the data center industry is finally transitioning to a new and sustainable operating model. This transition is not only positive for our environment but may even be the most cost-efficient approach to data center operations.

Every time you reply to emails, send chat messages, stream your favorite TV series, or perform a quick internet search, you contribute to the emission of small amounts of carbon dioxide. These small amounts of CO2 are emitted due to the energy necessary for running your devices and power the wireless network you access.

Those fragments of energy and their related greenhouse gases may not seem like much, but the consequences quickly become critical when you add them together. For instance, when the music video for “Despacito” set a new record as the first video to hit five billion views on YouTube, it simultaneously burned as much energy as 40,000 U.S. homes in a year.

The Data Center Industry Has a Dirty Secret

The computer servers that store website data and share it with the world through other computers and mobile devices realize the many digital benefits we enjoy in our everyday lives. However, the data centers that store these computer servers consume significant energy resources and pose considerable environmental challenges.

Today, more than eight million data centers make up one of the most energy-consuming and environmentally challenging industries globally. Together, these data centers generate the same amount of carbon emissions as the entire airline industry and account for 3,7 percent of global greenhouse emissions. And, with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the increasing penetration of cloud computing, these numbers are expected to increase during the following decades.

A Green Shift in the Data Center Industry

Fortunately, the data center industry is working intently on becoming greener and more sustainable. Several industry players increasingly focus on developing sustainable solutions to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

For instance, in Green Edge Compute, we currently develop green and sustainable data centers in urban areas by leveraging innovative cooling technology that accommodates optimal use of excess heat and enables efficient energy utilization. We primarily focus on the following critical tactics to achieve these goals:

  • Liquid cooling: Instead of air-based cooling systems, we leverage liquid cooling technology in our data centers. Rather than dissipating heat by supplying cool air into data center server rooms, we use liquids to help us create high-density data centers, reduce energy use, and increase waste heat temperatures.
  • Waste heat utilization: By using liquid cooling technology, we generate hot water as a waste product that may be delivered into the city district heating system as a sustainable heating product. Our data centers may reuse up to 90 % of all energy in local district heating systems.
  • Existing facilities: Leveraging liquid cooling for servers and other equipment and using high-density hardware, we can reduce the total size of our data centers up to 90 %, making it easier to leverage existing buildings in urban areas. Instead of developing large-scale warehouses to accommodate our data centers, we may establish our data centers in facilities located at the heart of the city, eliminating the need for new infrastructure.  

Read more about Green Edge Compute’s data center concept here.

Understanding Data Center Cost Drivers and How to Optimize Them

A more sustainable and green approach to data center operations will undoubtedly benefit our environment. But, as in other industries, going green may even help reduce operational expenses and enable cost reductions and savings.

First, green data center operations help cut electricity costs, which usually make up the highest cost driver in data centers. Typically, servers and cooling systems account for the highest shares of direct electricity use in data centers. At the same time, storage drives and networks also contribute to data center electricity use to a lesser degree (see figure 1). 

Data Center Electricity Use in the US

Figure 1: Data center electricity use in 2014 in the US (Source: Energy Innovation).

Cooling technology, in general, plays a vital role in making data centers more energy-efficient by reducing total energy consumption levels. By leveraging liquid cooling, specifically, data centers may reduce energy consumption levels even more than using air-based cooling systems that are less suitable for heat transfer and therefore result in higher energy consumption.

Second, liquid cooling helps to reduce the size of data centers, making them more compact than air-based cooling systems, limiting how tight the servers may be placed. Liquid cooling enables high-density hardware usage, making it easier to reduce the data center size and cut infrastructure and server costs – without compromising computing power.

Third, liquid cooling enables optimal waste heat utilization by capturing waste heat at even higher temperatures than other cooling methods. Liquid cooling generates hot water as a waste product which may be reused in local district heating systems as a sustainable heating resource. In Green Edge Compute’s data centers, we can reuse up to 90 percent of all excess heat in local district heating systems and isolate waste heat as a separate revenue stream.

Sustainable and Cost-Efficient Data Center Operations

Going green may help us reach our climate goals and help us slash costs for data center operations. Going green may indeed be more cost-efficient than traditional data center operating models.

Luckily, at least here in the Nordics, data center operators generally have a high focus on delivering sustainable services, and Green Edge Compute wants to become a positive addition to an already distinguished Nordic data center industry. However, we want to push the limits of available technology to achieve even higher energy utilization, generate even more excess heat, and make the industry even more sustainable.

Want to be part of our pilot project?  Read more ›