A carbon neutral data centre?

I honestly don’t know if this is possible or if it has been done anywhere but our aim in CIX is to try to build a carbon neutral data centre.

Carbon neutral means that the data centre doesn’t create greenhouse gases and add to the climate change problems the planet is experiencing.

Data centres are notorious for requiring vast amounts of electricity and as we are based in a nuclear-free country, it is difficult to use lots of electricity without producing significant quantities of CO2.

We have a strategy document on how we can achieve this but to get there we need other partners to buy into the idea.

How revolutionary do you think this idea is? Would you put your racks/servers into a carbon neutral data centre over and above a carbon producing one?

31 thoughts on “A carbon neutral data centre?”

  1. There are two approaches I can see:

    – pay for carbon credits.

    – build your centre in the basement of a commercial or residential block with contolled ventilation in a cool or temperate climate. The rising heat will heat the building. Less energy will be required for the air conditioning (i like this idea better.)

  2. Intersting approaches Antoin but neither are the one we are looking at.

    Although, I can say we are also taking a very innovative approach to cooling which will save on our energy consumption.

  3. I personally wouldn’t choose a DC based on carbon emissions.
    But _all_ boxes ticked (Which is rare in Ireland) and you made my shortlist, it might sway me slightly.

    off topic Tom but is CIX carrier neutral?

    Also looking at an overhead picture of cix it looks like your generator’s are located in the car park with no protection?

  4. Brian, thanks for your feedback.

    The data centre isn’t fully built yet. Hence, yes, the diesel generator is currently in the car park but we are building a 3,000 sq ft services area for diesel generators, fuel storage, ESB substations and UPS banks. When that is completed, the diesel generator(s) will be moved into this building.

    On the carriers – we are still negotiating with them but carrier neutrality would be our aim certainly.

  5. For the past month I have had an unfinished email to you, Tom, on the subject of CIX’s environmental plans or failing any plans on your part if you knew of any other data centers with environmental policies.

    I’d make it a significant factor in choosing a data center. It isn’t just idealism at play but also the fact that companies will be penalised in the future for their carbon footprints and companies that get their act together now will be better placed to succeed in the future.

    By choosing a forward looking data center I’d be more secure than with a data center that saved me a few pennies today and then had to ramp up charges in the future or go out of business.

    Please keep me up to date on CIX’s environmental plans.

  6. Well done!

    I don’t have any need for that kind of storage, but if I did I’d agree with Brian O Regan: obviously all the general data storage needs would have to addressed, and then the environmental issues would come into play.

    Having said that, if ‘going environmental’ resulted in certain issues in other areas, as long as that were made clear – ie the reasons and the rationale, then I hope I would still lean toward environment if at all possible.

    Since I can only assume that you will indeed be ensuring all the other ‘boxes are ticked’: Major congratulations for taking this approach.

  7. I think this will be serious deciding factor in a lot of business in the next 2-3 years and I commend a very positive move Tom. Hopefully if our plans work out we will be hosting with you there soon.

  8. Brian and Frank – yes we will be doing this in a way which won’t impact negatively on any other aspect of the business.

    Adam, thanks for picking up on that. Brian, as Adam said the generator is in a car park which is fenced. Furthermore it is locked and illuminated at night.

    Keith and Pat, great to hear, thanks, Tom.

  9. There are several carbon neutral datacentres.
    Like this one
    They power their datacentre using solar power.
    There is another carbon neutral one in the UK.
    I’d go for it. Being carbon neutral will be a big USP.
    Get your power from airtricity
    Use low energy products everywhere and buy carbon credits for what you can’t cover.

  10. Tom, I think it’s great that you’re attempting to go carbon neutral. And good luck to you. For me, a policy like that would be a deciding factor in choosing a supplier.

    I think it is going to be challenge for you though. Steer clear of the carbon credits approach – it’s smoke and mirrors – and doesn’t reduce your carbon footprint.

    Being entirely carbon neutral may be impossible. Especially if you start looking at the ancillary carbon costs – such as travel to and from work and for business.

    You can of course offset your emissions by planting trees. But good and all as this is, it’s not really the answer. And there’s a lot of question marks about how effective an approach it is.

    Maybe you should consider an open carbon reporting policy – make it clear how much carbon you’re emitting and set a declared year-on-year target to reduce this? An annual 3% reduction would be enough.

  11. Great info, thanks Dillon.

    Damien – don’t worry, we’re not thinking of buying carbon credits.

    I like the idea of an open carbon reporting policy though – nice one, thanks for that.

  12. Tom,

    Commendable idea!

    Thinkhost offers a ‘green’ hosting service I believe. They’re tagline is “powered by wind & sun’!

    I’d certainly be interested in green hosting. But there are so many other factors involved in getting hosting right.

  13. There is a Case Study Talk on ” A Green Data Center” at the Data Center World Conference being held in Las Vegas (25-29 March).

    I’m waiting on word back from the conference organisers (AFCOM) to see if they are making talks available as podcasts / downloads.

  14. you may have answered the question yourself. move CIX to a nuclear country, alas your post was prior to a high court judge denouncing the new labour new nuke plants plan as ‘LEGALLY FLAWED’

    it met a dutch web host in the digital hub last year, he was offering web hosting with or without carbon credits. you will use power unless you have shares in Steorn 🙂 can you source wind power?

  15. Hi Tom,

    Interesting what you are trying to do. As publisher of a national magazine dedicated to sustainability ( the magazine is simply called ‘Sustainability’) I can identify with the goal of carbon neutrality.

    We have a very strict ethical/environmental policy ourselves aimed at reducing our carbon footprint to the least possible. This includes generating all our electricity on site from wind and solar PV, using locally grown timber ( sustainably managed coppicing) for heating and trying to offset the carbon footprint of the magazine itself through long term tree planting programmes which will will manage ourselves.

    Even then however, we wouldn’t describe ourselves as ‘carbon neutral’.
    ‘Low carbon’ might be more accurate!

    Check us out at http://www.sustainability.ie
    Phone 098 26281

    Andy Wilson

  16. ThinkHost is co-locating out of a normal non-green data center, plus they use energy credits…AISO.Net (http://www.aiso.net) is 100% solar powered, both their servers within their data center and their offices are powered by onsite solar panels. And they also have a partnership with Co-Op America, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Green Building Council. Plus, they are doing more then just making sure their electricity is green. Their data center and office is green too by using environmentally friendly air conditioners, solar tubes to bring in natural light, a propane powered generator instead of diesel, VMWare virtualization to reduce their server electricity usage, 6 watt energy saving desktops computers for their employees, and soon to be LEED certified as a green data center, the only public one in North America, at least that I have found so far. So as far as the environmental concern, I think AISO is more concerned about the environment then any other of its competitors will ever be.

  17. Steve great what AISO.net are doing but what happens when the solar output is low/zero? Do they draw electricity from the utilities at these times and if so, what percentage of the total power requirements are met this way? Is an equivalent amount exported to the grid at times of surplus?

  18. I’m not sure I understand how virtualisation reduces server electricity usage. If anything running that extra piece of software would increase usage a tiny bit imho. What am I missing?

  19. Great questions….well here is how we have virtualization running, we have basically ~30 virtual servers using VMWare running on 1 physical server…this link talks about how we don’t use as much electricity compared to most data centers…

    http://www.aiso.net/solar-powered-environmentally-friendly-green-web-site-hosting.asp

    Plus, we are the first public data center in the U.S. to be a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and soon to be the first public data center in the U.S. to be LEED certified from the U.S. Green Building Council. And as far as I know we are the only green public data center.

    As far as the solar setup, the solar panels generate the power that charges our batteries and run the office and data center. Then at night the power is pulled from the batteries and if they run out then the generator kicks in. The generator is not diesel, which is found at most other hosting companies, it is propane which is cleaner burning. Propane does not emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and produces no sulfur dioxide or particulates which is the primary causes of the greenhouse effect and acid rain. In fact, propane also meets the standards set by the federal Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) for reducing acid rain and controlling air pollution in urban areas. The CAAA heralds propane as one of the solutions to a cleaner, healthier environment. And since propane vaporizes rapidly, it won’t contaminate soil or groundwater.

    A link to how our solar panel setup works:

    http://www.aiso.net/solar-powered-network.asp

  20. Carbon Free datacenter? Very good! I would like to join such noble goal.

    You will have to tap on technology under development I guess. Wind- and Solar energy probably won’t provide enough for you in Ireland. If you depend on (Bio)Diesel-generators you will have to put and grow enough green trees and plants around and maybe on top of your building to ensure CO2 is reduced to zero at your site.

    If you are profitable enough suggest to invest in more promising technology i.e.:
    Tesla’s inventions are still not developed well in 100 years. Especially take notice of his discovery that energy can be retrieved from the vacuum.
    Same counts for the Stirling hot air engine, development is still in children shoes although some small scale generators are available on the market.
    We need to boost development of such promising technology.
    Safer carbon free energy production methods will have to be available soon. We simply should not depend on old technology like Biogass/Diesel/Gasoline-, 2 and 4 stroke benzine based engines using the principle of exploding compressed gasses and steamturbines fueled by burning Carbon.

    Just google for Stirling, Tesla, Zero point and you will find solutions still under development but promising:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-point_energy

    http://www.freeenergynews.com/Directory/ZPE/index.html

    http://www.cheniere.org

    We should discourage the trading in Carbon quota, it is a silly thing and does not solve the problem at the source.
    Only rich people get more rich from it now.
    We also should discourage distribution of electrical energy
    and reduce the losses of energy. Decentral smaller scale power plants are the future.
    Creating a self-supporting data-center which could produce enough energy to support the nearby community of carbon-free energy could be a goal of your journey too.
    So you can even earn on energy production.

    I would like to invest in a sustainable future using better technology than is used now. Hope others reading in share the same view.\

    cheers,

    Fred in Tokyo

  21. Hi Tom,
    Sorry, forgot to fill in my details in my previous message
    which is being moderated now.

    cheers,
    Fred from Tokyo.

  22. I guess the energy saving possibilities of virtualisation are industry dependant. I rather think that it should be possible to lay out a network in such a way that the need doesn’t arise, and void or even better any requirement for virtualisation at all.

  23. Hi,

    Saw this post as we’re mentioned in it, so I thought I’d comment :). My comments are more related to green hosting rather than just the carbon neutral aspect.

    We’re a web hosting provider using green tags:

    http://www.thinkhost.com/socialchange/renewable-energy-hosting.shtml

    Globally, there’s an awful lot of data center infrastructure already in place and while it would be nice to have solar panels and wind turbines directly powering each one of them, it’s horribly expensive at this point, somewhat wasteful of current infrastructure and is going to be some time coming.

    The purchase of green tags is a great way for web hosts to do something environmentally positive right now by ensuring the equivalent power that they use is fed into a grid somewhere from renewable sources such as solar and wind. It’s a big picture concept and a practice that should be encouraged rather than being seen as the poor cousin to direct renewables powering.

    Imagine if every data center in the world started purchasing authentic green tags – that sort of demand would also help fund new renewable energy power generation projects over filthy coal-fired power!

    When looking at becoming or hosting with a “green” provider, it’s also good to go beyond the renewable energy angle to get a greater sense of if the company is just using renewable energy as a marketing angle. What else does the company do to back this green/progressive claim? Observing progressive business principles is an important part of the green equation.

    A bit of poking around on each host’s site will soon reveal how committed they are to progressive values. A host may buy green tags (or be powered directly via solar, wind, whatever), but approach other aspects of their operations in a totally non-progressive way. Being green is about sustainability as much as anything – including the business side of things.

    For site owners, you can also buy green tags yourself if you have a non-green host, but you may still be supporting a hosting company that supports all sorts of nasty stuff.

    I think the whole subject of green hosting needs to be approached holistically rather than just a focus on carbon and if the company has solar panels on their roof :).

    … but, I am somewhat biased :).

  24. That may be correct, but there are a lot of reports stating that Green tags, carbon offsets or what ever you want to call them don’t really do anything for the environment. You purchasing them doesnt do anything to help. There are no standards for offsets, and more than a little disagreement on what constitutes a “quality” offset. One key question revolves around something called “additionality.” Emissions reductions are “additional” if they would not have otherwise occurred — that is, if an emissions reduction is not “business as usual.” But not everyone agrees on what that means, and it’s proven exceedingly difficult to create a standard measure of what’s “additional.” RECs aren’t “additional” — that is, they are being generated regardless of whether anyone purchases them. To be a true offset, you have to say that the money you’re spending is paying for something that wouldn’t otherwise happen. Such as installing solar panels. If anyone is going to claim carbon neutrality for their actions or their corporation’s actions, they need to be able to show that the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions occurred because of the market for offsets. In other words, if you’re just buying something from a renewable energy project that would have happened anyway, I don’t think that’s a very good cause for claiming carbon neutrality. Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, believes this is all well-intentioned — but possibly off the mark. “In many cases, it reminds me of the Middle Ages, where a sinner would buy indulgences from the church to make up for their misdeeds, and then they’d go right back to sinning,” O’Donnell said. “I mean, it really doesn’t change things. One of the real problems with this is that it may divert attention from what we really need, and that is strong, decisive action by the federal government to actually limit and reduce carbon emissions nationwide.”

    Another note is the there have been investigations that have led to the finding that there are widespread instances of people and organizations buying worthless credits that do not yield any reductions in carbon emissions. However, some companies that are offsetting their emissions have avoided such projects because customers may find them controversial. BP said it would not buy credits resulting from improvements in industrial efficiency or from most renewable energy projects. Some investments that are good for the climate do not strictly qualify as offsets. For example, some energy companies sell “Green Certificates” or “Renewable Energy Certificates” (RECs) – money you give to the company for investment in clean energy. Encouraging investment in green technology is good, but doesn’t offset your emissions because there is no direct link between your purchase and the power company’s purchase of clean energy. Buying offsets encourages energy use by assuaging guilt. There’s no reason to think that people would conserve more if carbon offsets weren’t available. If people don’t want to make a big effort and buying carbon offsets is easy, the easy way out of helping the environment. If you want to help the environment, instead of paying for your all of your polluting, lower your pollution level then that will help the environment.

    Plus, the actual electrons consumed to power the computer server and all the other equipment are not necessarily the electrons generated from the wind turbine or solar panels that the REC’s are for. Each REC’s power generator feeds its power into the utility grid (power pool. The server and all of the other equipment may consume electrons that are generated by a coal-fired facility. Plus we can’t tell if you are really buying them or not, there is no proof of the purchases of REC’s, or how they are helping the environment. We hope they are helping but who knows, with no Better Business Bureau to police this green REC field, what guarantees that the carbon offsets being sold effectively protect the environment? The bad news according to Derek Broekhoff, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, is that “the vast majority of providers have a long way to go before they are up to speed and maintaining consistent levels of quality.”

    No single standard exists to appraise the quality of marketed carbon offsets, forcing consumers to rely on advertisements for much of their education. Just about anyone can hang out a shingle and say I’m selling a ton of carbon. The United States has neither a federally mandated carbon market nor established standards. With no universal standards, even bottom-line information on how many voluntary offsets have been sold remains unknown. In a recently published report commissioned by Clean Air, Cool Planet, Mark Trexler, president of the energy and environmental policy consulting firm Trexler Climate + Energy Services, determined that nearly 75 percent of the 30 retail voluntary carbon-offset providers existing at the time of his study provided insufficient information on how their offsets combat global warming, limiting consumers’ ability to make educated purchasing decisions. Intermingling renewable energy certificates in the carbon-offset market adds green energy to the grid without achieving cuts in CO2 emissions. Because of this, voluntary-carbon-offset providers that include sizeable percentages of renewable energy certificates in their portfolios, dont really help the environment as much as the consumer thinks it does. Carbon offsets are not that great because they allow people to pay someone else to deal with the problem, rather than taking responsibility for the problem themselves. Some fraudulent greenhouse gas reduction projects sell more carbon credits than they actually reduce, exploiting the lack of an international standard and leaving consumers mistakenly believing that they offset their carbon emissions. But without accepted standards to vet these offsets and verify that they are sold only once, the voluntary market’s reputation is falling. Here is a simple way to think about it: when you consume a lot of dirty energy, and then susbsidizing clean energy elsewhere, you are sending a single price signal to the market: people are willing to spend more on energy. That’s a signal that usually increases supply. Because electricity is a traded commodity (with a number of special features, like the fact that it is very unlikely that an expensive and highly regulated “dirty” plant will be closed), this will tend to increase the overall supply of electricity; even if you add some cleaner power to the mix, it will not cover all of your additional usage. Just do a search on google and you can see what im talking about. So choosing one data center over another because how they are powered, kinda does make a difference.

    IMHO

  25. Even when carried out according to best possible practise, carbon offsetting is a long term strategy which will do nothing to offset carbon emissions created in the present.

    It should be viewed as something which is only worthwhile if

    1/ All other options in terms of reducing ones carbon footprint have been exhausted

    2/ The offsetting project is to go ahead anyway because of its other merits (such as reforestation of deforested areas)

    Carbon Uptake by Trees

    The amount of carbon uptake by trees is often calculated on the basis all trees will reach either maturity or maximum carbon update potential, which of course cannot possibly be the case. The majority of trees will not make it to maturity.

    Also, the trees themselves will eventually begin to release more carbon then they take up (as the trees are cut down to be used as fuel or in construction, or the tree dies and decays) , so their ability to lock up carbon is much smaller than the maximum take-up calculations suggest.

    Then one must deduct any carbon uptake which might have occurred on the same piece of ground anyway, without the reforestation project.

    Finally, it is necessary to weight carbon expenditure now against potential carbon uptake in the future, because it is in the short term we need to achieve significant emission reductions, not in 30 years time.
    I would suggest that the final figure regarding the calculated carbon uptake is then divided by the number of years it takes to achieve, and then this new much reduced total is used when calculating the possible benefits in terms of offsetting.

    In other words, the true benefits of offsetting projects, in terms of carbon reductions), are extremely limited.
    That’s not to say all such projects are worthless (though this may often be true) but they need to be kept in context.

    It is also true that offsetting schemes are often no more than an excuse for business as usual, while creating the dangerous illusion that all that we don’t need to concern ourselves any further with global warming.

    Andy Wilson ( editor, Sustainability magazine: http://www.sustainability.ie)

  26. I would be very interested in moving my website to a hosting platform that is carbon neutral. I am living in a community that is striving to be ecologically sustainable, so I feel pretty satisfied with the fact that I’m walking my talk in my personal life. However, my online business activities are still tied into heavy C02 producing servers, so I could use help walking my talk with my business!

    Nathan

  27. Hi Tom,
    I came across such inovative Data Centre design idea. My 2 cents after all other interesting contributions is Solar option is safer as Green house gas emission can be controlled better than Diesel generator. Best example is GOOGLEPLEX – SOLAR Power plant at their HO ( Ithink around 2 MW capacity).

    Best regards,

    Hitesh

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