How Australia is decarbonising its data centres

By Sean Nolan

Australia’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources discusses its work encouraging sustainability among businesses and citizens.

“Digitised data will be the main resource of this century,” said Charles Michel, President of the European Council. But what can the world do when its main resource is also leading to significant harm to the environment?

Data centres store and process the information that citizens need to work, play and communicate. However they require vast amounts of energy to function, pitting the need for data storage against the responsibility for climate action.

Australia’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources shares how the nation is helping organisations to cut down their energy consumption.  It also discusses the sustainability initiatives that are helping businesses and homeowners transition to a more energy efficient lifestyle.

The challenge at hand

Data centres are of interest to the department for two reasons. First, data centres have the potential to be very high energy users.

Some of the world’s largest data centers require more than 100 megawatts of power, enough to power around 80,000 US households, wrote Energy Innovation. Data centres use more than 2 per cent of the world’s electricity, the same amount as the world’s aviation industry, according to The Next Web.

The second reason is that the number of data centres have grown significantly over the last decade, the department highlights. Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry recognised a similar trend, saying there was a “rapid increase” in the development of data centres, wrote CNA.

Singapore built 14 data centres in the last five years, compared to building 12 centres in the 5 years before that. The country has decided to pause any plans to build new data centres while it figures out a way to make them more environmentally friendly.

Green data storage

Australia has set up a system to help businesses make their data centres more sustainable. These organisations can invite assessors to evaluate the energy efficiency of their facilities, including data centres.

Evaluations look at specific qualities of a data centre, including the amount of power going towards computing, cooling and lighting. The assessor will highlight areas where energy efficiency can be improved and rate the facility from one to six stars.

This assessment helps data centres use energy more wisely, reducing the data centre’s energy bill. Raising the rating from three to five stars translates roughly to a US$1.5 million saving per year, according to the rating system’s website.

Displaying a positive rating enables businesses to showcase their sustainability in a commonly recognised way. For example, IT company Fujitsu volunteered to have its data centres across Australia undergo assessment.

The rating “gives our customers credible assurance of our energy efficiency and environmental commitments”, said Blaise Porter, Director of Responsible Business, Fujitsu Oceania.

Sustainability across sectors

Beyond data centres, Australia is encouraging organisations and citizens to keep sustainability in mind. The government has set up a fund that incentivises businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.

The government provides businesses with carbon credits for every tonne of emissions reduced, the department explains. Organisations can then sell these credits back to the government, or to other businesses, similar to that of an online stock exchange, the country’s Clean Energy Regulator explained.

The fund rewards businesses for reducing their carbon emissions, when they adopt a new technology for instance. But the government will also give credits to organisations that show they have stored carbon.

Reforestation and protecting forests that are at risk count towards this goal, as plants and trees naturally absorb and store carbon. One example saw landowners earning over US$4000 per hectare of land after restoring it with more vegetation, a video from the regulator highlighted. 

Australia is also providing ready-made, environmentally friendly house designs for aspiring homeowners, the department says. Architects and energy assessors worked together to create comfortable and energy efficient designs to suit the location of the house, according to the programme’s website.

For instance, designs take into account the movement of the sun and the direction of winds in a particular region. This informs the design of a house’s windows, as they can allow for natural cooling as opposed to energy guzzlers like air conditioners.

Climate change is a global challenge that governments, businesses and citizens can all help to address. Australia is creating new ways for these groups to be involved, informed and incentivised in climate action.