Data centers, the home to the physical infrastructure that underpins today’s increasingly digital world, consume increasing amounts of energy. By 2020, U.S. data centers are projected to consume electricity equivalent to the output from 50 large coal-fired power plants.2 This increase is driven by the rapid growth of the “digital universe” – the data we create and store every day. According to a joint study by IDC and EMC published in April 2014, the digital universe is doubling in size every two years, and by 2020 will reach roughly 44 trillion gigabytes. While efforts to improve the energy efficiency of data centers – such as free air cooling, hot/cold aisle containment, and operating data centers at higher temperatures – will remain an important area of focus, organizations are also capturing sustainability gains by switching to clean energy.
These efficiency and sustainability gains come at a time when organizations – especially those with large carbon footprints – are increasingly finding that their customers want to see greater transparency about corporate sustainability initiatives, paired with an appropriate and meaningful business response.
Quantifying this trend, Forrester Research has reported that 72 percent of companies in the S&P 500 published reports on their corporate responsibility or sustainability efforts in 2013, compared to only 20 percent in 2011.4 What is “clean” energy? In broad terms, “clean” or “green” energy comes from renewable sources such as the sun (solar), wind, the movement of water in rivers and oceans (hydroelectricity), biofuels (fuel derived from organic matter), and geothermal activity.
The “brown” alternative is energy derived from finite fossil fuels, especially those that contribute most heavily to carbon emissions, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Nuclear power is classified as a non-renewable source of energy, due in part to environmental concerns about disposal of radioactive waste.