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SA data centres must pull the plug on non-renewable energy

Read time 4min 40sec

South African data centre companies are increasingly shifting their focus to renewable energy sources, in efforts to improve overall efficiency of their operations and lower costs.

This is according to electrical equipment and systems manufacturer Eaton South Africa, which says SA’s data centre market is increasingly setting green energy goals and tapping into off-grid resources for power generation.

With SA being repeatedly plunged into darkness over the past few years, with embattled power utility Eskom failing to keep the lights on, developing renewable or green data centres is touted as the answer to the ongoing energy crisis.

Data centre operators across the globe are increasingly tapping into renewable energy through various ways, including signing power purchase agreements with renewable power companies, using on-site roof space for solar generation, or integrating energy storage sources as an additional power generation source over fossil fuel energy.

According to BroadGroup, research indicates that data centres could consume a fifth of global electricity by 2025 and create 14% of carbon emissions by 2040.

Jaco du Plooy, product manager at Eaton South Africa, says the data centre market in SA and Africa witnessed significant growth as the pandemic accelerated data demand amid the increase in remote working and data traffic from governments, firms and citizens.

As many organisations have been forced to accelerate their migration to the cloud to allow remote working, data centres have been using substantial amounts of energy to function. As more investments in new data centres in Africa pour in, the growth of data usage is expected to result in the ICT industry becoming one of the highest energy consumers, he says.

“The arrival of hyper-scalers has driven demand even more; many of which are investing billions into building data centre facilities to cater to African markets, with SA poised to become the continent’s data centre hub.

“Data centres could in fact lead the charge to help put an end to climate change by harnessing renewable energy to meet 100% of data facilities’ primary power requirements. Renewable energy has many benefits, including environmental contributions to global warming, less government taxation and penalties tied to legislation, and improving power usage effectiveness, which has a direct impact on the operational cost.”

As the backbone of the digital economy and the very foundation of the World Wide Web, data centres play a crucial role in Africa’s ever-accelerating information age by creating a platform for growth and encouraging investment on the continent, he adds.

Jaco du Plooy, product manager at Eaton South Africa.
Jaco du Plooy, product manager at Eaton South Africa.

SA’s energy supply shortfall

While SA has a heavy reliance on coal resources, governments across the globe have been introducing new frameworks to help combat climate change by enforcing the reduction of the amount of fossil fuels emitted by firms.

In an effort to resolve SA’s energy supply shortfall and reduce the risk of load-shedding, president Cyril Ramaphosa last month announced government will increase the National Energy Regulator of South Africa licensing threshold for embedded generation projects from 1MW to 100MW.

The move would allow companies to produce their own electricity without a licence.

Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, during a recent webinar, spoke about SA becoming Africa’s data centre hub, in light of the Draft National Policy on Data and Cloud.

“This is a great opportunity for African data centre operators to put in place best practice and steer the industry down a ‘green’ path as data centres are rolled out. Rather than focus on the energy drain that is a reality for data centres, we can instead take a proactive approach to this challenge,” comments Du Plooy.

Huawei says it is working on providing African data centres with a renewable energy data centre facility solution, to help realise a green data centre vision in Africa.

The telco’s “green data centre” strategy is premised on four key pillars: effective construction goals, suitable cooling schemes, improved electrical efficiency via clean energy and optimised operations.

“With all industries actively engaged in implementing carbon neutrality goals, building greener and far more energy-efficient data centres is a major target for the data centre industry. According to statistics, global data centre power consumption accounts for 2% to 3% of the total power consumption. Using green energy is the main way to build the low-carbon data centre to reduce the carbon footprint and reduce the negative impact on the environment,” says Huawei.

In December, Amazon announced it had invested in 6.5GW of wind and solar projects that will enable the company to supply its global operations with more than 18 million megawatt hours of renewable energy annually. The American multinational technology company said its 26 new wind and solar projects would power its various operations, including its data centre regions located in various parts of the globe, including SA.

It currently has 127 renewable energy projects globally, including 59 utility-scale wind and solar renewable energy projects and 68 solar rooftops on fulfilment centres and sort centres.

Facebook, Microsoft and Google are among the technology companies that have committed to go ‘100% renewable’ through the RE100, a global corporate renewable energy initiative bringing together hundreds of businesses committed to 100% renewables.

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