COP 26 is happening as I write this, and climate change is at the forefront of global thought.
While for members of the public, it will be easy to redirect their attention to less ominous world issues, the data center industry has been and continues to be extremely well aware of the implications of climate change.
Pankaj Sharma, Executive Vice President of the Secure Power Division at Schneider Electric, does not underestimate this.
“At Schneider, we've been talking about sustainability for almost a decade now. I remember almost 10 years ago, when we used to have the Sustainability Index, during our quarterly updates with our financial investors, people didn't care too much about it, it was more about how much money you're making, how much shareholder-return you have.
“Interestingly, in the last two or three years, it's at the top of their mind. Everybody's very interested to understand more about what's happening with sustainability.”
But what has driven this attention? Realistically, we have all been aware of the problem of climate change for a very long time. In 1988, UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher famously said that, “the environmental challenge that confronts the whole world demands an equivalent response from the whole world. Every country will be affected and no one can opt-out. Those countries who are industrialized must contribute more to help those who are not." So why has it gone un-prioritized for so long?
Perhaps it is as simple as the human need for a ‘turning point’, or as Sharma calls it, a ‘pivot’.
“The big question is, where is the pivot? I think we all agree that we need electric cars. But the question is, how many of us are driving electric cars? There is a reason why we aren’t. Charging facilities, just costs can be prohibitive and so on. So, where is the pivot? Climate events are becoming more and more of a reality.
“When you look at events like those, and then when you look at technology, which can enable green, where's the pivot? There is a green premium. That's reality, we all have to accept it. Are we willing to pay for that premium today? Are we going to be willing to pay for the premium tomorrow? Or is it going to be too late, that when we get ready to pay for the premium, there won’t be much left to pay for?”
This is an ominous thought and one that is not necessarily helpful to dwell on. Instead, there needs to be practical action taken to make technology sustainable for our planet and the population’s demand.
“The reality is that all this digitization is so necessary for this current time. Take the example of during the peak of Covid, everybody was on e-commerce because you had to order even your basic food online. More digitization means more data centers, and the reality is if you build more data centers, it can have an impact.
“The level of resiliency needed for these data centers, because there are so many more, is obviously extremely high. But you also need them to be highly sustainable. The debate about whether you can build a resilient data center while it is still sustainable is an important debate. But I think it's possible to do both together. It's a misconception that you can't build a sustainable data center if you have to build a resilient one; there are ways to do it.
“You build the best physical infrastructure, the highest level of efficiency, you use the most efficient software to design, build, operate and maintain it for the lifecycle. You do the best sourcing (electric) which means more and more renewables. You package all that together. There are ways to build sustainable data centers and there will be even more in the future.”
Pankaj Sharma and Schneider Electric remain optimistic about the future of green technology in the data center industry. Here’s hoping that there is a global decision to take the green premium, in order to achieve a greener future.