Fueled by Innovation, Sustainability Moves Back to the Forefront

As the global pandemic gradually winds down, carbon emissions are again on the increase and sustainability is moving back to the forefront as a global concern. While data centers have played a pivotal role providing the digital infrastructure for the emerging global economy, digital transformation continues to increase the power required for today’s modern data center. 

A Valuates Report projects the global data center market for power increasing from $15 billion in 2020 to $21.5 billion by 2026. For their part, data centers are becoming more responsible corporate citizens by increasing use of renewable energy. There is evidence: The market for green data centers is projected to grow from $49 billion in 2020 to $140 billion by 2026. The most astute data center providers now recognize how the altruistic nature of corporate sustainability can create value for investors and benefit society at the same time. As a result, innovation and creative sustainability programs are emerging in the US and abroad.

Innovation in the Netherlands

WarmteStad is the sustainable utility company for the municipality of Groningen in The Netherlands. WarmteStad is partnering with QTS’ data center to supply residual heat for a large-scale sustainable district heating project. WarmteStad’s heat plant captures residual heat generated from cooling towers in data centers. Heat pumps powered by renewable energy deliver the hot water through an existing underground heating network that supplies residual heat to 10,000 households, buildings and knowledge institutions. This project serves as a model for re-purposing data center heat for sustainable living.

An added benefit of the water solution: Buildings can be heated without a gas connection, significantly reducing CO2 emissions and supporting Groningen’s environmental goal to be completely CO2 neutral by 2035. In addition to the use of residual heat from data centers, WarmteStad is investigating other sources, such as innovative seasonal heat storage underground that could be used as a supplement or an alternative.

Another creative Dutch sustainability initiative addressing energy and water conservation is the North Water initiative. Until recently, data centers in certain parts of The Netherlands were cooled using valuable clean public drinking water. QTS’ Eemshaven data center and Google are now using North Water’s sustainable “industry water” to provide energy-efficient cooling for data center servers, while freeing up millions of gallons of clean drinking water for the community.

Pairing Renewable Energy with Technology for Water-Free Cooling Solutions

In the US, data centers are increasing their use of renewable energy to offset carbon emissions generated from the increasing power required for cooling. Conventional data centers typically choose from two approaches to cooling: An energy-efficient cooling system that requires a substantial amount of on-site water usage, or a refrigerant-based system that uses no on-site water but requires more electricity. 

Both of these approaches typically require the purchase of power from generation plants that burn fossil fuels and depend on significant volumes of water for their own cooling needs. It is estimated that these water-dependent thermal power plants today generate more than 80% of the world’s electricity and use approximately 174 billion gallons of water per year.

As highlighted by the United Nations report on water conservation, water scarcity is rapidly becoming a global issue, and a call has been heard for data centers to reduce water use. Similar to how carbon emissions are classified as Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 — enabling organizations to measure impact, set reduction targets and track performance — leading data centers are approaching water usage and conservation in the same context.

QTS is working with innovative equipment suppliers to develop highly efficient pumped refrigerant-based cooling systems that use no water, and they pair this advanced technology with offsite solar or wind energy to create a true zero-water solution. This approach enables a 100% Scope 1 and Scope 2 water-free solution. It is the industry’s first true zero-water cooling solution powered by 100% renewable energy, making those data centers the most water-efficient data centers in the world.

Corporate Sustainability Extends to Philanthropic Activity

Sustainability has also become the focus for corporate philanthropic activities and the data center industry. American Forests is a world leader in planting trees for environmental restoration, a pioneer in the science and practice of urban forestry, and a primary communicator of the benefits of trees and forests.

QTS partners with American Forests to support tree-planting at strategic sites to encourage improvement of rural, suburban, and urban ecosystems. It helps by planting and caring for trees that provide important environmental and economic benefits, including pure water, clean air, and wildlife habitat.  The “Grow with QTS” program is a commitment to the future and to prosperity with our customers and American Forests. QTS has committed to donate more than 20,000 trees per year for planting, with one tree being donated for every 100 kW contracted each month per customer. In 2020, the Grow with QTS program donated nearly 25,000 trees along the Sierra Nevada ranges to help with fire restoration, as well as along the border of Virginia and West Virginia to restore stripped mine land.

In 2020, QTS established a partnership with World Vision, a humanitarian organization, to make clean water accessible to thousands of families globally. Within the new initiative, QTS and World Vision will provide people in developing countries with clean water on behalf of QTS’ customers for the life of each customer’s contract. For large, multi-megawatt customer deployments, QTS will build a sustained clean water source, such as a well or water point, in a developing country of the customer’s choice, providing long-term, sustainable clean water to an entire community. On an annual basis, the World Vision partnership with QTS is expected to provide access to clean drinking water to nearly 7,000 people, including the sponsorship of select deep-well projects around the globe.

These are just a few examples of sustainable innovation that could change the world and pave the way for a more sustainable way of living.

QTS is proud to have achieved a leadership position in the data center industry for its sustainability initiatives. It is on track to achieve key sustainability milestones, led by a commitment to procure 100% of our power requirements from renewable energy sources by 2025.

For more information, check out QTS’ Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) report.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.