1. Analysis
August 3, 2022

Insatiable data centres’ power consumption at risk when the next heatwave hits

As temperatures rise, data centres need new high-energy cooling systems. However, their present energy demands are already causing problems for city-dwellers.

By Jake Mainwaring

The Met Office and other institutions have warned that scorching temperatures, like those experienced in July in the UK, will become more commonplace. This is bad news for data centres, which have already been buckling under the heat.

During last month’s heatwave, Google and Oracle’s London-based data centres went offline. Both companies cited cooling issues as the cause for the service outages.

Furthermore, in an Uptime Institute survey of US-based data centres, 45% of respondents said that an extreme weather event had threatened their continuous operation.

The cost of cooling servers

Heatwaves will become more commonplace and so will data centres’ power issues. Now they must prepare for the next scorcher.

However, that must be done with some careful considerations as the wrong measure could end up exacerbating matters.

Verdict recently reported that cooling systems and air conditioning, like those used by data centres, consume a lot of power. With the rising price of energy, cooling system renovations are expected to be costly.

Moreover, in some places the current power infrastructure cannot sustain increased demand.

The Greater London Authority recently banned new house-building projects under consideration in West London because the power grid is at capacity due to hungry, hungry data centres eating up all the electricity.

A vicious cycle

As heatwaves continue to burn through our summers, it would be tempting to suggest that companies should just crank up the air conditioning and get on with it.

However, not only will that fail to fix the problem of data centres’ power consumption, but it will actively contribute to the vicious circle that worsen climate change.

We recently reported that an increase in cooling systems will ramp up the demand for energy, resulting in an increase in fossil fuel combustion, which in turn will exacerbate global warming and create more heatwaves that will motivate people to invest and switch on even more powerful cooling systems – and so on, and so forth.

The state of affairs emphasises the need for a shift in the uptake of nuclear and renewable energy. In lieu of a total overhaul of energy production, innovations extending the efficiency of cooling systems and data servers would not go amiss.

Innovative measures

That being said, data centres do have a role to play when it comes to tackling global warming. They don’t have to be the villain in this scenario.

Many data centres house high-performance computers. These supercomputers are basically connected strings of computers with impressive processing power. This computational capabilities of these devices can be powerful tools in the fight against climate change as they can rapidly collect and analyse oceans of data.

Furthermore, an innovative Microsoft data centre is helping to compensate for the Achilles heel of renewable energy: that there is nowhere to store it. The inability to store electricity means that a lot of the excess power generated by tidal, hydro and wind power is lost if it isn’t used right away.

The Dublin-Based Microsoft data centre is trying to solve this. It is permitting the city to store the excess energy generated by solar cells in its sizable back-up batteries. It then gets released to the grid when necessary, to prevent power outages.

Data centres also contribute to the easy-access of information. A UN taskforce cited education as a powerful tool against climate change, which the internet provides in spades.

GlobalData is the parent company of Verdict and its sister publications.