No more houses, Data Centres have consumed all the electricity

Housing projects may have to be put on hold in west London until 2035 as the electricity grid has run out of capacity.

How did this happen and where has all the capacity gone? Of course, there are many reasons, but new data centres are a big part of the problem.

Globally the total power usage of data centres is approximately 1% of the total available electricity supply. In the UK however, according to the National Grid it’s estimated that there are between 400 – 600 commercial data centres which currently use about 2.5% of the supply, this is forecast to grow to around 6% by 2030. A high concentration of these facilities are in west London due to the substantial fibre network and the financial services sector.

The recent heatwave has also increased the problem as it’s significantly pushed up the demand for cooling these power-hungry high temperature facilities.

Sometimes though it takes a significant event like this to make the public more aware of the issue, and with awareness comes questions and a need for answers.

How do we stop these Data Centres from taking all the power?

Modern data centres are designed with a very high level of efficiency, we measure this using PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) which is calculated by dividing the total data centre energy consumed by the energy required by the equipment inside it, many older DC’s have a ration of approx. 1.58, the lower you can get this number the better and we’re now seeing this as low as 1.1 and occasionally even lower for some of the hyperscale operators. The ability to reduce this further is challenging and the benefits are becoming increasingly smaller.

More focus needs to go into what’s inside the data centre, not just the physical equipment but also in terms of digital wastage.

A good example is data storage devices which are responsible for between 10 – 20% of data centre power consumption, however estimates show that 60 – 70% of the data created and stored is never used again, it’s one giant landfill of data that’s sat on devices that are consuming power, and often therefore creating emissions. Working out ways to better manage this holds real opportunity and is a big focus for companies like NetApp as we try to provide data centre operators with more advanced data analytics to help them to make better decisions about what to do with the data they are storing.

How will data centres be affected by rising energy costs?

Several things are likely to happen, companies that operate data centres where it isn’t their business will continue with their move to the cloud and reduce the number and scale of their own facilities, we’re already seeing this happen. Price increases, combined with a need to improve sustainability will accelerate the process.

Companies where a data centre is a fundamental part of their business and the service that they offer, cloud providers for example, may well have to consider price increases for their consumers. Cloud cost optimisation technologies such as SPOT by NetApp will have a significant role to play here in helping keep cloud costs down.

We’re also likely to see increased investment into research and development around technologies that could have a positive effect on reducing energy consumption such as liquid cooling, or others that could have a dramatic effect on reducing power and space required such as DNA storage or Quantum computing.

There is one bit of silver lining on this cloud which is that increasing energy costs will force companies to look for greater efficiencies in what they run in their own data centres or accelerate their move to more efficient cloud data centres and this can ultimately have a positive effect on reducing carbon emission and therefore improving sustainability.

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