Data Center’s Enormous Carbon Footprint

Data Center’s Enormous Carbon Footprint

Tech giants’ data centers use enormous amounts of energy, roughly 3% of the world’s total consumption. This is not so environmentally friendly— unlike our data centers. 

Typically, software companies are not the first to come to mind when thinking about environmentally unfriendly companies. They do not dump toxic waste into rivers or have factories with black smoke swirling out of their chimneys. Unfortunately, however, the energy footprint of data centers is huge. Luckily, many tech companies are taking measures to make their data centers 'greener'. Google and Atos are leading the way.

Keeping it Cool
Many data centers use the same amount of energy for cooling and power conversion as they do to power the servers. Obviously, huge gains can be made by optimizing cooling systems. Google recently announced that an AI system is now fully responsible for cooling optimization. The results are promising: energy used for cooling has been reduced by 40%. 

Using software to optimize cooling is just the first step. Follow-ups include, for example, choosing the right location for data centers and using natural cooling sources instead of chillers. Location benefits work in multiple ways: one can imagine that Scandinavia has more natural resources for cooling than the Sahara, yet Scandinavia also provides for places that can use heat from a server park, such as houses. The heated water used for cooling down data centers is also used to warm buildings and water. 

In line with this concept, Google chose to build a data center in Finland, right next to the Gulf of Finland. A tunnel was then built to get the ice-cold seawater from the Gulf to the data center and use it for cooling. Finland also permits renewables on the grid so most of the energy of the data center is provided by an onshore wind farm. On top of this, the data center’s heat was used to create a sauna for all Google employees.

Efficiency Gains
Energy usage can clearly be reduced by making data center processes more efficient. Over recent years, the PUE, which is the ratio between the power needed for things like cooling and computing, has decreased significantly. Atos and Google have invested in this heavily and are now seriously more efficient than regular datacenters (please read our white paper to learn more)

What if we look at it from a different angle? What if we started using fewer resources because of coding changes? A game on your phone might require just half the power if programmers put effort into making an energy-efficient code. Energy efficiency should be part of software design. It should be taken into account when testing and ultimately bounced back if it is not energy efficient. 

24x7 Carbon-free Energy
Despite all the energy reductions, our overall energy footprint is still big. This presents a good opportunity for renewable energy. Atos, as well as Google, have managed to offset 100% of their carbon emissions. Google is by far the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy. Atos has invested in setting up entire wind farms. 

Yet, the challenges are big. Google showed that their wind farms can produce way more energy than their data centers use on a windy day. However, windless days still require a large amount of carbon-based energy. Atos and Google, therefore aim to invest in different types of renewable energies to ultimately achieve 24x7 carbon-free energy. 

 


Atos and Google are both CO2 neutral. Since 2018, Google even generates more wind and solar energy than it uses (as only Cloud provider). So if you choose for the Google Cloud Platform to execute analyses, store data and develop apps, we compensate your CO2 emissions by generating renewable energy; decreasing your environmental footprint. Curious to learn more about how we rank v.s. others when it comes to sustainability? Greanpace ranked all tech companies based on their sustainability efforts, in its Click Clean report Google is the only Cloud provider that was awarded the highest A-Rating by Greanpeace.