We know that China has pledged to hit peak carbon emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060. But will the rush to develop data centres get in the way? It seems that central government thinks it could.
According to Reuters, China’s rulers have admonished local governments to prevent the “blind and disorderly development” of power-hungry data centres. By this it seems to mean reducing the number of data centres and 5G networks dependent on coal-fired power plants.
Estimates from Greenpeace are that electricity consumption from China's data centres and 5G base stations could almost quadruple from 200 billion kilowatt-hours in 2020. Close to two-thirds of this is likely to involve coal-fired power stations.
Beijing’s request is backed up by a plan asking local governments to avoid using incentives to attract data centre construction into areas that aren't classified as national hubs. Outsourcing some of the processing work to areas rich in renewable energy sources is another suggestion.
This may have an effect, but it’s not only local governments that are the problem. China’s biggest tech company, Alibaba, and its biggest independent data centre operator, GDS, have yet to issue renewable energy or carbon neutrality commitments, according to Greenpeace.
An example of the sort of approach guiding more environmentally aware data centre development comes from the Philippines, where Digital Edge has launched a joint venture with real estate firm Threadborne Group, to build a 10MW data centre in Manila.
The Data Centre Dynamics website says that Digital Edge is aiming for efficiency with the new data centre in terms of both power usage and water usage effectiveness.
Jay Park, Chief Development Officer of Digital Edge, says the development uses less than a quarter of the water needed for cooling when compared to traditional cooling-tower-type setups. He adds that the company will be seeking a number of environmental certifications to back up its efforts.
Given that data centre building isn’t going to stop, it looks like we can clearly expect data centre power use – efficient or otherwise – to make headlines for some time to come.