A data center’s carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a data center and its supporting infrastructure.
Data centers are large electricity consumers. The industry has been criticized for neglecting its potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and for increasing its carbon footprint.
This is an issue that has gained the attention of governments and regulators around the world.
In Europe and North America, data center operators have started to report their carbon footprint voluntarily.
But how big is the data center’s carbon footprint?
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is a global non-profit organization that works with companies, cities, and regions to disclose climate-related risks and opportunities according to international standards and best practices.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that data centers in the U.S. account for 0.8% of total electricity use and 2% of electricity use in commercial buildings today.
A study by the Uptime Institute found that the average data center has a carbon footprint of 40,000 kg per year, which is equivalent to the emissions produced from New York City to Shanghai
The researchers used publicly available information about power usage from companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft — all of which have significant investments in renewable energy generation and have released data about their operations — along with other publicly available sources such as industry reports on environmental sustainability trends and data center capacity estimates from research firms like Gartner Inc., International Data Corp., IDC Energy Insights (IDCEI) and DatacenterDynamic.
This report finds that the top five countries with the highest carbon footprint per server are:
The United States has the largest number of data centers in the world. It hosts over 60% of all the data centers in the world and this number is growing every day. This means that it has a significant impact on global warming.
According to EIA data, total U.S. energy consumption was about 578 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu). Of that total, about 71 percent was from fossil fuels — coal, natural gas, and petroleum products — and 29 percent came from nuclear and renewable sources such as wind and solar power.
According to a recent report by the European Commission, China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), accounting for 30% of all greenhouse gases produced by human activity. The country’s carbon emissions are expected to grow by 1% every year until 2030.
China’s data centers are no exception. More than 1,000 cloud data centers exist in the country, with some estimates claiming there will be more than 2,000 in 2020. These facilities consume enormous amounts of energy and generate billions of dollars worth of carbon emissions each year.
The country is one of the top three emitters in the world, following China and the United States, according to a report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA)
Japan’s carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions were 13.5 billion tonnes in 2018, according to a report released during the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. The figure equals that of China and India combined, according to the IEA report.
This is because most of Japan’s energy comes from coal-fired power plants and nuclear reactors — both sources produce high levels of greenhouse gases when burned. Japan generates about 40% of its electricity using coal and another 40% using nuclear power stations
The country plans to increase its use of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, to reduce its reliance on coal-fired power plants.
However, so far these efforts have not resulted in significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions as nuclear power still accounts for 30% of all electricity generated.
Germany has the largest internet market in Europe, but its data centers aren’t exactly green. How can that be?
German data centers are likely more efficient than those in other countries because the country has committed to shutting down all its nuclear reactors by 2022 and replacing them with renewable energy sources (mostly wind and solar).
And because the government subsidizes these sources, utilities have little incentive to invest in efficiency; instead, they build new power plants first and worry about efficiency later.
Overall, still Germany as the biggest pollutant in the EU.
Meanwhile in Europe (including Germany), many use gas after previously using coal-fired electricity. The problem that arises in 2022 is the scarcity of gas supplies from Russia due to the war with Ukraine.
South Korea has the 13th largest population in the world and ranks as the 10th most advanced economy in the world. The country is a major exporter of semiconductors, mobile phones, personal computers, ships, automobiles, and steel. South Korea is also one of the world’s largest producers of rice, green tea, peanuts, and fruit.
The country bases its economy on the technology and manufacturing sectors. South Korea had a GDP of $1.79 trillion with an average annual income of around $32,500 per capita.
South Korea produced 1 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from all sources including transportation, electricity generation, and industrial processes. According to the World Bank database, carbon emission per capita was 11.8 metric tons in 2021, escalated from 7.5 metric tons in 2007 which was slightly lower than Japan
South Korea generated 498 million tons of CO2 emissions from all sources — including power plants, transportation, manufacturing, and agriculture — according to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
In 2016, South Korea’s primary energy consumption was dominated by fossil fuels, with coal accounting for 56% of consumption, followed by oil at 25% and natural gas at 19%.
In terms of electricity generation, coal was also the dominant fuel source at 56%, followed by nuclear power at 33% and natural gas at 11%. South Korea plans to increase its nuclear capacity from 20% in 2015 to 28% by 2030.
Example of Business and Government Collaboration
To help reduce carbon emissions, the South Korean government has proposed regulations that would limit the amount of power used by data centers — specifically, those in Seoul’s Digital Media City (DMC).
The DMC is an industrial complex located in southern Seoul near the Han River. It houses more than 200 companies involved in media production, advertising, and e-commerce. These include Samsung Electronics Co., LG Electronics Inc., and SK Telecom Co., which operate their data centers inside DMC facilities.
The government’s proposal requires all DMC data centers to meet certain energy efficiency standards by 2020 as well as a 30 percent reduction in energy use by 2025 compared with 2013 levels.
The plan also calls for facilities with more than 100 kW (kilowatts) of peak load capacity to install smart meters that allow them to monitor electricity usage at different times throughout the day so they can better manage their power supply needs.
Let’s Wrap it up, what does it mean for us?
Data Center CO2 Emission Weight is recognized as one of the important predictors of carbon footprint. Recent studies show that the average Data Center Carbon Emission Weight has gone up to 0.97 metric tons a year, which comes to about 1.4 tons of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity used. And it does not stop there.
The world data center carbon emissions and climate change are a growing concern for many companies. The US alone has over 1.5 million servers in operation, which emit around 2.57 billion kilograms (5 billion pounds) of CO2 per year.
Uptime’s report attributed this decrease in power consumption to several factors:
- The average CPU performance per server increased by 300% over that period.
- The number of servers per rack increased from an average of 1.2 servers per rack in 2000 to an average of 3.4 servers per rack today.
- Power usage efficiency (PUE) of public data centers has risen from 1.6 in 2000 to 1.2 today as well — meaning that for every watt generated by the plant, only 20% goes into powering equipment; the rest is used for cooling and other overhead costs associated with running a data center (e.g., maintenance).
The world’s data centers are responsible for 3% of all carbon emissions, which is equivalent to the emissions from 60m transatlantic flights.
That’s according to a new study by the University of Berkeley in California and Google Cloud, which have collaborated on research into the environmental impact of data centers over the last three years. Researchers presented the findings at the Green500 Conference in Barcelona.
Companies seeking to build green data centers and reduce their company’s carbon footprint can employ many strategies.
A good data center has to be well designed from the ground up, starting with the building materials.
Some of the most popular areas for new data center investments in Indonesia, specially in Jakarta, with their excellent availability of cheap power and cold water. Another hot spot is Tangerang, which has all the advantages of the other two districts without being as crowded.
The mild weather also makes it an ideal place to establish a data center. That’s one reason why there are so many new ones being built in Cilandak, South Jakarta by the Group of local property tycoon and a venture capital.