John Bensalhia finds out about the data centre’s innovative plan for sustainability from Green IT Amsterdam project manager Vasiliki Georgiadou
As the world revolves around us, sustainability is an important watchword in maintaining a healthy, cleaner lifestyle. What we eat, what we drive, what we wear… and perhaps most crucially now, how technology – and data is processed and consumed.
Green IT Amsterdam is an example of a company building a sustainable future for the tech world. Green IT describes itself as a network organisation of stakeholders focusing on green IT.
Project manager Vasiliki Georgiadou explains more: “Founded by the City Council of Amsterdam for the purpose of exploring and developing green IT solutions and related policies, Green IT Amsterdam is a non-profit legal entity acting as association for the IT sector, the energy sector, user organisations and knowledge institutes. As such, the organisation leverages a strong local network to scout, test and showcase innovative IT solutions, to support the energy transition and sustainability goals of the Amsterdam region.”
Vasiliki has eight years of experience working on European projects related to energy sustainability in IT with a special focus on the data centre sector. In this time he has contributed to the development and integration of proof of concepts, pilots and case studies related to data centres’ interaction with smart grids and energy markets, including electricity and heat.
“The very first projects funded by EC back in 2010, FIT4Green & GAMES, were only looking within the boundaries of the data centre itself. It soon became apparent, however, that we need to expand the scope and as such acknowledge and where possible, capitalise on a data centre’s unique position within three different networks: IT, electricity grids and heating networks. Data centres are truly both energy and data hubs that should be now thinking in terms of sustainability instead of simply efficiency.”
“I have an MSc degree in electrical engineering and computer science and as you can imagine, I see data centres as the perfect playfield where I can combine my interests coming all the way back from my study years.”
Vasiliki is keen to discuss CATALYST – an innovation action EU funded project that envisions data centres as energy hubs that offer flexibility services to both smart grids and heating networks.
“Its very name stands for ‘Converting data centres in energy flexibility ecosystems’,” explains Vasiliki.
“It is an innovation project taking up previously developed tools, methodologies and models from EU R&D projects, such as GEYSER and DOLFIN and improving them so as to make them ready for market adoption.”
CATALYST works on the premise that electricity, heat and IT load should be treated as commodities that data centres can trade within their respective emerging markets, Vasiliki says.
“The project’s consortium is geographically distributed across Europe and naturally spans the whole spectrum of stakeholders around data centres, including not only data centre operators, engineering and end users but also utilities, grid operators and of course the research community.”
Power to the PUE
To tackle any problem, first you have to measure it. Vasiliki says that the data centre community should feel very proud to have introduced PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) ten years ago.
“Through its ups and downs and common misuses and abuses, PUE was nevertheless the tool to drive innovation on energy efficiency (especially in terms of cooling and power infra). It made also the communication with outsiders so much easier (procurement, policy and regulators). And that is great!”
But a new era is upon us, one where more and more data centres are entering the discussion on waste heat reuse and offering (emergency) power/energy services to grid operators.
“Examples here are still in pilot phase or simply on a business case basis, but these topics are hot today: connection to heating district networks and support to grid operators for congestion management are two primary examples of what we see for the near future; and there are technologies that can enact these: from liquid cooling solutions (see Asperitas for example) to UPS as a reserve (Eaton) and energy storage services for data centres (Vertiv).”
Considering the main benefits of introducing sustainable activities in the data centre field, Vasiliki lists: continuing business; retaining costumers with competitive prices; increasing profit margin by leveraging on by-products (heat), to name a few.
“In a nutshell, following through environmentally sustainable actions is not simply a social imperative; it is the single economically sane undertaking to ensure future livelihood.”
Vasiliki believes that data centres can become flexible energy hubs that sustain investments in renewable energy sources, heat reuse and energy efficiency, supporting, in practice, the sustainable energy transition. But the question is – how do we evaluate, report and communicate to the outside world these efforts?
“The same way that PUE drove the advancements in data centre design and operation in terms of efficient infra, we need an appropriate suite of metrics to reinforce our efforts in sustainability.”
“This is what we try to prepare for also within the CATALYST by developing the Green Data Centre Assessment Toolkit to support the evaluation and self-assessment of data centres in terms of their environmental performance and impact. And we should not forget that sooner rather than later data centres must jump on the circular economy wagon (with e-waste management on top of the list).”