Collin Arocho
15 March

To reach carbon neutrality, it’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach. Asperitas is working together with strategic partners like Shell and communities like OCP and SDIA to illustrate the roadmap to the carbon-free data centers of the future.

The energy transition is inevitable, but how exactly that will take form is all but certain. However, with the unveiling of the European Green Deal, which lays out a plan to make the continent “climate neutral” by 2050, and the big-tech hyperscale data centers setting their sights on carbon neutrality by 2030, the wheels of the transition are already well in motion. As technology advances and more is learned about the impact value of specific metrics, the picture of a sustainable future is coming ever more clearly into focus. But one thing is for sure, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to reaching these goals.

That’s where immersion cooling expert Asperitas is looking to flip the script on traditional cooling methods, to meet the sustainability challenge. To do this, the Amsterdam-based company is drawing its focus to a number of critical challenges the industry is facing en route to carbon neutrality. First of which is the enormous amount of energy that data centers consume. In fact, this component of the digital infrastructure ecosystem is estimated to account for more than 10 percent of global electricity consumption by 2030. Simultaneously, Asperitas is zeroing in on challenges like water consumption, waste heat and the ability to bring viable and energy-friendly data centers to all areas of the globe, even in warm-climate zones, which have historically been untenable regions for data centers.

Credit: Asperitas

SDIA

These are the goals that Asperitas has laid out in its pursuit of data center resilience, but what are the key factors that other industrial players must take into account to achieve carbon neutrality while simultaneously ensuring their own market viability? Meet SDIA, an alliance of organizations committed to realizing a sustainable digital economy. It’s SDIA’s roadmap that’s guiding the sector through the challenges in the quest of realizing a renewable and sustainable future.

“The conventional approach to energy supply and consumption follows traditional lines of thinking. On one side are energy producers supplying and charging for energy, while consumers are on the other side. There seems to be a lack of collaboration between the two sides,” explains Lasse Schneppenheim, head of operations at SDIA. “Together with our members, we founded the alliance to foster collaboration across all industries that make up the digital sector, from energy and data centers all the way to software and digital businesses. Looking at the example of energy utilities and data centers, there’s a clear benefit to collaboration, beyond a traditional customer and supplier relationship.”

While technology certainly accelerates the power consumption challenge faced globally, according to Schneppenheim, it will also be the most crucial tool to address the Climate Crisis. “Many innovative tech startups and software providers are part of the alliance and have committed themselves to our roadmap. SDIA really stems from the thought that technology and the digital economy are solving or helping to solve many of the challenges of building a sustainable future. It’s also clear that to address the Climate Crisis, we’re going to need smarter and more efficient technologies to both understand and tackle climate issues,” explains Schneppenheim.

“Our aim within the roadmap is to remain technology neutral in terms of solutions because there are a number of new technologies that need the chance to valorize and be proven. Whether it’s hydrogen backup generators vs. battery-based backup or recycling vs. refurbishment, there’s a potential role for each technology and solution to play in achieving the goals of our roadmap. One thing is clear: the applications that will help us address the Climate Crisis need to run on sustainable digital infrastructure. Leaner cooling systems and waste heat utilization are two big focal points in the coming five years, which goes hand-in-hand with the immersion cooling solutions created by Asperitas and its partner, Shell.”

Good fit

It was just this approach, of facilitating collaboration and interaction between various stakeholders and industries, that attracted Asperitas from early on in the vision of the alliance. “Since the start, the fit with SDIA was really good. Our mission at Asperitas is to look at data centers in such a way that we can integrate them as much as possible with the energy infrastructure layer – a core belief that we share with the alliance,” highlights Maikel Bouricius, business development manager at Asperitas.

Credit: Asperitas

The other aspect that really drew Asperitas to become an SDIA member was the open-minded approach. With the data center industry being mission critical by nature, standards were already widely available and adopted. And with regards to energy efficiency, the European Code of Conduct has been offering best practices for years. “What we’re seeing now are clear objectives by industry leaders, like the hyperscalers, and more recently the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact,” Bouricius says, adding: “To drive real innovation, industries need several elements: standards, objectives, and roadmaps. Some communities can integrate all three of them, like the OCP community, but in general, the wider industry benefits from several strong communities driving a certain element.”

“That’s where SDIA comes in,” Bouricius stresses. “The alliance serves to enable any potential idea, technology or solution, even those which are a little more out-of-the-box. I often say, standards are the enemy of innovation. When bodies like this are too focused on specific solutions, they’re immediately limiting the options. SDIA’s approach is aimed at providing the sector with a tangible roadmap, metrics that can transcend a single industry, and the building blocks to use, incorporate and create any number of innovations to achieve sustainability in data centers.”

Momentum

From government regulations to industrial leadership and the buy-in of everyday consumers, the quest for sustainability and renewable energies is going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach. But one of the first steps in this pursuit is getting out the message and, just as importantly, making sure the message evolves as more information becomes known.

“Two or three years ago, the discussion about energy consumption rested completely on power usage efficiency – PUE. This was considered to be the holy grail and most of the industry seemed to be content with the goals of simply being more effective,” recalls Bouricius. “But PUE is really just the start of it and our efforts and also the efforts of SDIA have been to change the narrative and push beyond that boundary to look at other challenges across the industry like waste heat reuse or water consumption, as they’re interconnected with energy efficiency. In the last nine months to a year, we’re seeing that the discussion has started to change. Suddenly, energy efficiency isn’t the gold standard. Now we’re looking toward carbon neutrality and, in some cases, carbon-negative ambitions of data center operators and users.”

While there’s still a lot of ground to cover and the mission is only just getting started, there are already some encouraging signs within the industry. Hyperscalers such as Facebook and Google have already unveiled their climate ambitions of carbon neutrality. Microsoft even took it a step further, announcing it has been carbon neutral since 2012, but is fully committed to achieving carbon negativity by 2030. With commitments like these, SDIA is feeling the wind in its sails.

“I have to admit, we certainly feel the momentum. Our mission has definitely progressed, and we’ve become more aware as the scope has widened. There are several contributing factors to this momentum,” Schneppenheim says. “Of course, many initiatives have really taken off and regulators are getting more serious, like with the European Green Deal, LEAP in the Netherlands or the Environmental Digital Agenda in Germany, but certainly the adoption of these practices by the big tech companies also provides a boost. We really believe it shows how reachable these targets are with robust collaboration. Our roadmap reflects exactly this. And, with a number of solutions already validated and matured – for example, in renewable energy or immersion cooling – companies can get started immediately.”

Credit: Asperitas

Win-win-win

While the boost from the tech giants is notable, SDIA is also getting a shot in the arm through collaborations from the energy sector, both providers and utilities like Vattenfall. Asperitas has been working with several engineering and energy companies, and closely with Shell since 2018 after winning the New Energy Challenge. According to Shell’s global marketing manager Sundeep Kamath, his company has committed to being a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society and customers – certainly no small feat. But that’s just the start.

“It’s no secret Shell has been transforming, and we see ourselves not only as an energy provider but also as a leader in technology development. Around us, we see other industries on similar journeys to decarbonize, including the data center sector. The focus is no longer on if immersion cooling works, or what the real benefits are. Instead, the question has become ‘when is it going to take off and scale up?’,” explains Kamath.

“In my opinion, the technology offers nothing but positives: it’s very scalable, you can get better performance out of your electronics, you can capture and reuse virtually all of the waste heat, for example to heat homes and office spaces, all while reducing your energy footprint by up to half. It’s a win-win-win. Now, it’s just about getting people used to it. So, to help get the industry familiar with the technology, we’re working with Asperitas to really get the immersion cooling system and the specially engineered fluid out to the industry. To take it one step further, we’re pulling in the different capabilities of Shell to offer renewable energy solutions, both on and off the grid, to power the immersion cooling system and data centers. Finally, we aim to be able to utilize waste heat to offer heat reuse engineering solutions, realizing a circular approach that ultimately will contribute towards meeting carbon neutrality goals.”

Asperitas’ Bouricius agrees. “This is precisely the value that we see in this sort of collaboration. Not long ago, sustainability was seen as an add-on or as an added-value item. But recently we’ve seen – and it’s been confirmed through independent reports from watchdogs and expert groups like the Uptime Institute – that sustainability has reached mission critical. Instead of a bonus, it’s seen as resiliency and as a true marker for success. Immersion cooling will add value to the roadmap for many data centers.”