The industry buzz as we went into 2020 was climate change and sustainability. Then, the pandemic hit, and survival and finding a vaccine took the front page. At the same time, the pandemic drove massive demand and dependency for remote connectivity and data center resources to an exponential growth rate. The need to build out the digital infrastructure quickly took priority.
Nonetheless, the data center industry continued in its efforts as a leader in improving energy efficiency and increased utilization of renewable energy, even as dozens of 100-MW campuses were being built out at an incredible, record rate to meet demand. Beside massive scale (and partially because of it), virtually all of them had PUE numbers below 1.5.
While the PUE metric clearly defines the measurement process for facility efficiency (thanks to The Green Grid!), it represents only a portion of sustainability in the overall data center eco-structure. We have seen PUE averages for new, traditional enterprise and multitenant data centers (MTDCS), or colos, drop from approximately 2.0 in 2010 to 1.4 or less in 2020. Moreover, the hyperscalers have brought PUE to down to 1.1 or less. So, where can we go from a PUE of 1.1?
Although PUE is the most globally recognized facility efficiency metric, and as important as PUE is, it is only a part of most serious conversations about data center sustainability. Google and other hyperscalers may have already reached some of the worthwhile goals they have set for themselves, such as using 100% renewable energy by means of power purchase agreements and, in some cases, directly investing in renewable generation. They also recognize that we are all still a long way away from 100% non-fossil fuel energy generation, since, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 17% of domestic power is generated by renewables.
“Electricity is produced by many different sources of energy, including, but not limited to, wind, solar, nuclear, and fossil fuels,” per the EPA. “The type and amount of emissions produced depend on how electricity is generated in your region.”
The EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) website has a tool that allows users to enter their zip codes (or select a region) to view their power profiles.