With the increasing migration to the cloud, data centers worldwide are growing at a breathtaking pace. This month, Google opened its newest European data centers in Fredericia (Denmark) and Middenmeer (the second data center location in the Netherlands after Eemshaven). In the meantime, work is being done on a sixth data center in Hamina (Finland) and a fourth in Saint-Ghislain (Belgium), where plans for a fifth unit have already been made concrete.
And no, that growth will certainly not decline in the coming years. The growth of heavy cloud applications (think of ML in the first place) and the growing use of streaming services (now also for games) are responsible for this. It is therefore not surprising that data centers are responsible for 0.8 percent of global electricity consumption today.
How does Google make its data centers sustainable?
It goes without saying that such an immense infrastructure is a major expense for Google. And it therefore has an interest in keeping energy consumption as low as possible. And of course, the scale of global operations makes a great deal possible. For example, Google data centers today are about twice as efficient as a typical company data center.
Or expressed differently. Although Google delivers seven times more computing power in its data centers compared to five years ago, they still use the same amount of power today. This is possible, among other things, by implementing an AI-based control of the cooling that has resulted in a thirty percent decrease in energy consumption. The actions taken in recent years to achieve those results are discussed here.
In addition, Google has been carbon neutral since 2017. Or put differently, Google finances just as much renewable energy as it consumes in total. Not that the data centers today only run on renewable energy. Data centers must of course continue to operate when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing.
But that is only an intermediate step because a few years back Google announced the next step in its policy. Google wants to be completely carbon free by 2030. Which means that under all circumstances it only wants to use renewable energy for all its products. This will require a multitude of technologies. More efficient hardware, wider use of AI to control the environment, better batteries and additional investments in renewable energy. Google will support both in its own data centers and technological developments or infrastructure investments at its partners.
And that these are not empty promises, proves an announcement of December 16. Google then announced that it will be the first hyperscale data center in the world to try to replace the classic diesel generators with a battery-based system in the data center in Saint-Ghislain.
But this will be a much broader story than a mere replacement of the existing polluting infrastructure. Because Google also wants to make that investment more profitable. While diesel generators are idle for most of the year, batteries are multi-talented team players: when not in use, they are available as part of a larger energy story. In collaboration with Elia, the battery park will therefore be integrated into the Belgian electricity network.
If Google can prove that business-critical environments can be supplied with emergency power by battery parks, a whole new market will open up immediately. Because not only data centers have set up emergency power facilities. And in this way, Google’s initiative can be viewed as groundbreaking.
Nice to know, one of the reasons why the location in Belgium is chosen is that the local team already has a track record in implementing new energy ideas. It was the first facility in the global operation to operate completely without mechanical chillers – one of the many reasons the European Commission recognized it as a top performer in energy efficiency. It is also the place where we integrated our largest on-site renewable energy installation: more than 10,000 solar panels.
If you want to read more about the approach, you can visit the Google blog here.
You will also find more explanation in the next article of Data Center Knowledge.
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