Underground Data Centres
Digital is not carbon free
We've all become much more aware that driving our car, leaving the lights on, using our heating has an environmental impact.
However, very few of us realise that there is a climate impact that comes from our digital activities - and that impact is, collectively, huge.
The environmental impact of our digital lives covers everything from the devices and gadgets we buy and dispose of, to the energy used when using them, or leaving things on standby (like smart speakers and TVs), browsing websites, sending emails and even our social media use.
As discussed in a previous report, the total energy consumption and carbon emissions of the internet rivals even the largest of nations.
The Role of Data Centres
Our appetite for technology, along with digital products and services was growing at an exponential rate, then the pandemic kicked things into over-drive.
Now, even with the supply chain issues that led to a global chip shortage, our demand for digital technologies continues to grow and an eye-watering rate.
Without intervention, the emissions associated with our digital technology use would sky-rocket, potentially eclipsing even today's most climate-damaging nations.
Part of the solution
Digital technologies can offer a lot of benefits, including the potential to reduce our overall carbon footprints when we substitute one more harmful activity with a lower-impact digital one. For example, conducting a business meeting online instead of flying from London to Paris is a clear win.
However, the digital solution isn't carbon free. Beyond the embodied carbon of the required equipment, there is a significant amount of energy required to operate it all.
Operational digital carbon emissions are derived from the energy used to power end user equipment (such as laptops, cameras), to transmit the data (over wifi, cables, cellular, data centre connectivity, transatlantic cables), and, to process and store the data in data centres.
Quick note about video calls: Where possible, switch off your video during online meetings, reverting to audio-only - the impact of using video vs audio-only during an online call is approximately 700% greater per minute.
Thankfully, though, this problem isn't new to the data centre world, and many have been working hard for many years, if not decades, to improve their efficiencies and move to renewable energy sources.
In doing so, as common infrastructure across most of our digital dependencies, data centres are well positioned to help decarbonise much of our digital carbon footprint.
Bluebird's Underground Data Center
In a recent piece of work with Informa as part of their Data Center Efficiency Evolution Programme (DEEP), I had the privilege to speak with Todd Murren, the General Manager of Bluebird Underground.
Bluebird Underground is a state-of-the-art data center buried 85 feet underground in the corner of a disused 5 million-square-foot limestone mine, and Todd's been working there, underground for a long time, and had lots of really interesting insights and tips to share.
While the initial requirement for the Bluebird facility in the 1990's wasn't sustainability driven in the way we think of today, it was to prevent critical damage from unpredictable weather events, such as F4 tornados.
In what might be considered a twisted sense of fate, that way of thinking seems to be much more aligned with the modern day sustainability thinking, too.
Nowadays, operating deep underground provides additional efficiencies and competitive advantages, namely in energy savings and reductions in water use.
More Tips and Insights for Data Center Mangers
The full interview with Todd contains many more insights and tips, and can be downloaded for free from this link.
The report is useful for data center managers, users and anyone wanting to understand what lengths data center are going to reduce their environmental impact.
Contents of the report:
- Operating from a subterranean biosphere
- The Aha! Moment
- Sustainable Benefits of Underground
- Unique Challenges
- Customer Focus on Sustainability
- The DEEP Evaluation
- Trust Through Transparency
- Tips for Improvement