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Data Centers Are Searching For Sustainable Energy Solutions

Taylor Vick

Data centers play a vital role in the 21st-century economy, helping companies support internet traffic and run technology services that range from websites and email to software applications. But it takes a whole lot of energy to run these warehouse-sized facilities, which is why multi-tenant data centers are among the world’s largest per capita consumers of electric power.

In the United States alone, data centers are estimated to have consumed about 73,000 megawatts last year, according to the World Finance website. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that large, multi-tenant data centers now require enough to power 80,000 US households or a small city – more than 100 megawatts of power capacity. 

Data centers worldwide account for about 2% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which puts them on a par with the airline industry. These facilities also require massive amounts of water to cool their servers and tech equipment and prevent it from being damaged.

Photo Courtesy NASA

Because of the amount of energy and water needed to power a data center, companies that run them are looking for ways to cut their emissions and operate more sustainably. Those companies include Equinix, a Redwood City, Calif.-based real estate investment trust that specializes in data centers; Aligned Energy, a data center operator based in Plano, Texas; and Digital Realty, an Austin, Texas-based provider of cloud- and carrier-neutral data centers and other solutions.

All of these companies are looking into new and innovative ways to turn the data-center industry more sustainable. In the case of Equinix, much of the focus is on green bonds. The company, which operates 230 data centers in 26 countries, has issued more than $3.7 billion in green bonds that will be used to “finance projects for green buildings, renewable energy, energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste reduction, and clean transportation.”

Equinix is one of the bigger and more successful players in the industry. It trades on the Nasdaq under EQIS and logged net profits of $68 million and revenues of $1.658 billion during the second quarter. The company makes money in a variety of ways: by providing colocation services; renting space in its data centers to multiple tenants to house their servers, storage, and networking equipment; and giving customers ways to let their computers talk to each other privately rather than over the public internet.

In terms of sustainability, Equinix has established a Green Finance Framework that sets science-based climate targets that align with the Paris Agreement and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It already procures 100% renewable energy for 180 of its data centers, which means it is well on its way to achieving its goal of 100% clean and renewable energy.

Photo Courtesy Christina

Aligned Energy builds custom data centers for individual corporate clients and also offers colocation facilities. The privately held company mainly operates in cities that don’t have high electrical costs, such as Salt Lake City and Ashburn, Va. It recently raised more than $1.2 billion in a funding round that will be used to finance expansion and allow it to meet the rising demand for sustainable infrastructure. That was on top of $1 billion in debt financing Aligned raised last year.

Aligned’s near-term plans include opening a new data center in Salt Lake City that will use a proprietary cooling technology that doesn’t rely on water for cooling systems needed to keep servers from overheating. The company already uses mostly waterless data centers at its five U.S. locations, but the Salt Lake City facility will be its first completely waterless project.

Aligned isn’t the only data-center company eyeing less water use. Equinix and Digital Realty Trust also aim to reduce their reliance on the water at their colocation centers.

Digital Realty bills itself as the largest global provider of cloud- and carrier-neutral data center, colocation, and interconnection solutions, with 291 facilities in 47 metro areas across 24 countries on six continents.

The company’s green program includes 100% wind power for its U.S. colocation retail spaces as well as a heavy focus on certified Green Buildings. It has already achieved the U.S. Department of Energy goal of 20% energy efficiency and has issued $493 in green bonds allocated to nine sustainable projects in four different countries.

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