PENNY MURPHY, PARTNER, DIGITAL SOLUTIONS, ASIA PACIFIC & REBECCA GREEN, REGIONAL CLIENT & MARKET LEADER, TECHNOLOGY MEDIA & TELECOM, ASIA PACIFIC, ERM
Today, many of us may not realise that our daily activities are indirectly tied to the enormous growth of data centers and contribute to its carbon footprint.
At work, we collaborate with our teammates and clients, whenever and wherever they are, exchanging data or making multi-transactions every day. At play, we stream and watch online videos, or immerse into the gaming realm. The amount of data we produce and consume is extraordinary.
In fact, it is estimated that over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created each day globally. With our intensifying demand for smarter, faster data, alongside the surge of edge computing and artificial intelligence, there is an unprecedented growth of hyperscale data centers globally and in the Asia Pacific region. APAC hyperscale data center market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7% during 2022 to 2027.
Yet against the backdrop of corporate sustainability and climate change, the pertinent question is how can we use technology advancement to develop and oper ate data centers in a safe and sustainable way?
Challenges faced by hyperscale data center operators, owners, and tenants
Data centers consume an estimate 2 to 3% of global electricity, which raises the concerns around their carbon emissions.
However, due to the classified nature of data cen ters, organisations must balance how they approach reporting locations and source of electricity to gauge its actual CO2 emissions. With the increasing demand for data, data centers face similar challenges as the aviation sector in managing their carbon reduction journey.
Increasingly, data center operators need to align with the sustainability strategy and policies of both the owners as well as the potential tenants of the data center. The key environmental, social and governance (ESG) and environment, health, and safety (EHS) con siderations include addressing the availability and use of renewable energy, sustainable water management, the possibility of current and future land contamina tion, and the well-being of the community and work ers.
The asks are further compounded with limited suitable sites, changing regulations, controlled permits, and the demand for zero harm, sustainable development, and operations.
It is vital to take on a smarter, collaborative, and inte grated approach, from site selection to development and operation, to ensure time, cost, and energy effi ciencies, while also enhance the company’s reputation and value.
This can only be accelerated with deep expertise and digitalisation to provide clarity at speed and scale.
Addressing ESG and EHS blind spots at speed and scale
Apart from the air and liquid cooling technology (part of the HVAC suite of systems), AI-enabled analytics, geo-spatial imagery, and compliance related tools, can be a game changer to empower informed deci sions and enable multiplying effects for a sustainable future.
Today, prior to developing and operating a data center, it is vital to conduct a comprehensive site due dili gence, rigorous impact, and social risks assessment, optimise with renewable energy, obtain timely approv als for safe and seamless development, and practise compliant operations and execution.
• Smarter site selection and collaboration with Geospatial technology
For many data center owners, the ability to utilise data and technology to make robust decisions at early stag es of site selection is crucial. Using the geospatial im agery captured through satellite and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), owners can assess the environmental landscape to support site selection. In addition, the insights obtained from geospatial imagery provide the ability to integrate these data points into a digital twin model - creating a collaboration platform as data centers move through the plan, design, construct and operate phases. Through Digital Twin, one can also promote sustainable development through better site expansion planning.
• Understanding impact through a data-driven approach
Through crunching of past complex data sets, coupled with the inputs from the on-site technical assess ments, we can call out anomalies on possible risk fac tors such as floods, seismic hazards, and other natural disasters, and identify underlying hazardous mate rials and payload. At ERM, we have developed a Cli mate Risk, Impacts and Solutions Platform (CRISP), to support the understanding of physical risks to assets. This can be undertaken for a wide range of contexts. From providing early insights such as risks to assets during the due diligence process, responding to risk requests required by regulators and other bodies to supporting disclosures, CRISP enables organisations to plan for their future, i.e., financial, operational and supply chain. A site feasibility study with predictive analysis, will enable a better assessment of the cost of assets conversion and its access to both energy and water, and impact to its community.
• Eco-friendly site development and timely permitting with regulatory compliance systems
There is a need to ensure that timely licensing and permitting are obtained for the development and construction of the data centers, adhering to both the regional and local regulatory requirements. The need to understand the investors or banks global standards are also of paramount to obtain financing. As the regulatory landscape evolves rapidly across APAC, the need to understand the impact of national, federal, and municipal regulations in real-time is key. Through a smart regulatory monitoring and compliance system, data centers can consolidate the required regulatory and eliminate much time to obtain approvals. At ERM, we have developed a service THEMIS and have strate gic partners that allows for notifications of regulatory changes, the applicability of these regulations and associated actions, and tasks to support a compliant data center.
• EHS information systems to optimise operations and emergency planning
The needs to establish clear EHS policy, strategy and processes are significant and involve a very broad range of decisions and actions. EHS information systems can be used to provide an integrat ed up-to-date operational EHS Standards and Performance, including the site risk profiling, horizon scanning, benchmarking as well as impact and gap analysis. This also facilitates the management of the EHS processes to sustain ably operate to mitigate e-waste, and emergency planning.
• Energy efficiency through smart monitoring
It is vital to monitor the data center power usage pattern and effectiveness, to best configure the optimal use of resources, and to maximise utili sation, to achieve low carbon economy. The life cycle of the data center assets including waste heat and recovery of materials managed can also be considered.
Advancing with new technologies and mindset shifts
As we look towards a future where data centers can adopt a safer and more sustainable out come-based approach – new technologies can affect lasting positive outcomes. All these will be catalysed further with the development of 5G, geospatial communications, as well as hydrogen and energy storage solutions.
For a sustainable-first approach to be truly suc cessful, there is also a need for mindset shifts for the employees to embrace ESG and EHS to operationalise sustainability and safe practices. Only then will digital and data mastery lead to an even safer, and a more efficient and sustainable future.
About the Company
As the largest global pure play sustainability consultancy, ERM partner with the world’s leading organizations, creating innovative solutions to sustainability challenges and unlocking commercial opportunities that meet the needs of today while preserving opportunity for future generations. Our diverse team of world-class experts supports clients across the breadth of their organizations to operationalize sustainability, underpinned by our deep technical expertise in addressing their environmental, health, safety, risk and social issues. Find out more at www.erm.com
ERM are an active member of the BritCham ICT Committee.