The European data center sector could lead the world in reaching net-zero emissions, and in the process help operators in other parts of the world, a DCD event heard today.

A wide group of industry bodies launched a Climate Neutral Data Center Pact in January, welcoming the European Union's promise to reach neutrality for the whole continent by 2050, and promising that the data center sector can achieve this by 2030. Leaders of the pact told DCD online event Towards Net-Zero that the agreement will benefit other sectors and could have an impact outside the EU.

A green template

"As far as I can see we are the only industry in Europe that is accepting to meet these targets, without pushing back," said Michael Winterson, managing director services for Equinix, and a board member of the European Data Center Association (EUDCA). "Every other industry is pushing back, saying 'we want more time,' or saying it is not possible. But we are meeting the targets. That's a bold step."

In creating the pact, Winterson and colleagues had to convince the European Union that the sector could be trusted to make its own way to net zero without requiring legislation to force them to do so, and then work with members and groups, to create a set of targets which would be achievable by all their members, and acceptable to the EU's Net Zero - the Green Deal program announced in 2019.

"We can be the catalyst that tests new ideas for the benefit of other industries, like transport and mining," said Winterson.

The pact could also be useful to other nations, said Alban Schmutz, SVP of public affairs at European cloud provider OVHcloud, and chairman of Cloud Infrastructure Services Providers in Europe (CISPE). Both Equinix and OVHcloud operate in other countries beyond Europe and would be evaluating the pact's targets for wider application, said Schmutz, while providers outside the EU could also use them: "Europe is not unique. It is a collection of various states. What we have done is a laboratory of what can be done at an international scale, not only in Europe. If we can succeed in Europe it can have effects in other places," he said, pointing out that other European initiatives such as GDPR for privacy, have been used or partially adopted elsewhere.

Carbon accounting

The European pact contains several goals based on performance metrics such as PUE (power utilization efficiency), but there are more detailed ways to examine the environmental performance of data centers. In another DCD>Towards Net-Zero sessions, Lars Schedin, CEO of EcoDataCenter, a Swedish facility which is built of wood to minimize embodied energy, explained a detailed approach to carbon accounting.

Complete carbon accounting requires a provider to include the energy embodied in its entire operation, as well as the energy consumed, and the lifecycle emissions of material that is recycled, said Schedin. However, it should also take into account avoided emissions, such as when a data center's waste heat allows other consumers to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels for heating.

Schedin detailed an approach which sets up a current account in a "gas bank" for greenhouse gas emissions, before leading a roundtable discussion with 50 delegates on the detailed issues of carbon accounting.

"We need to include everything, including the embedded carbon included in renewable power," said Schedin, "and share how we calculate things."