Carbon Neutral Computing – Moving from Theory to Practice

Carbon Neutral Computing - Moving from Theory to Practice - RE5Q
Carbon Neutral Computing - Moving from Theory to Practice - RE5Q

When one talks about energy intensive industries, computing might not be on the radar of the green energy warriors. However, computing is surprisingly a major source of carbon emissions. While the development of AI and cloud computing has saved labour and hardware cost for companies and institutions, these technologies have resulted in increased energy consumption. In 2020, the cost of powering a computer surpassed the price of new computer hardware. In particular, data centres which enable AI and cloud computing, have such a large carbon footprint that they have reached about the same amount of carbon emissions as the airline industry, accounting for 3.7% of total carbon emissions globally. For example, Ireland, “the data centre capital of Europe” with its 54 data centres, consumes more than 700 million kWh annually, making it the worst emission performer in EU. What is worse, as the computing industry is gaining momentum, its carbon emission is expected to double within the next 5 years.

At the same time, companies and institutions have been making efforts to reverse the trend. As far back as in 2006, a project called Carbon Free Computing was started as part of the VIA Green Computing Initiative. It incorporated the idea of “carbon offset” by energy reuse, alternative energy solutions, and other green undertakings. In the last decade there have been many regulations passed to address carbon emissions throughout the lifecycle of electronic devices, from manufacturing, to use and disposal.

Progress has been made, with tech giants putting a lot of resources into reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions. Google for instance, claims to have neutralized all carbon emissions since 1998, and reduced energy use for cooling their data centres by 40%. Likewise, Microsoft aims to shift to 100% renewables by 2025. At the same time, energy efficient computers are now being designed. In 2019, the first remanufactured, carbon neutral laptops were produced in Portsmouth, England, with estimates that each laptop would reduce CO2 emissions by 600 Kilograms through its lifecycle. In 2020, Intel started work on a sustainable PC that tackles the energy problem right from design stage.

The industry is still in the early stages of becoming fully carbon neutral, and much more still needs to be done to fundamentally change the current landscape. RE5Q is well positioned to lead the transformation by making data centres more energy efficient. One of the largest costs in building a data centre is the requirement for a robust power grid. The typical cost of redundant and uninterruptable power is around 20-30% of capex.  This can be removed by building low-cost Gigawatt-scale solar storage for data centres and leveraging existing storage. RE5Q technologies effectively resolve the conflicts between data centre upgrades and the resulting e-waste. We lead the industry by adopting an aggressive 24-36-month data centre refresh cycle, versus 5-10 years in the current market, with aggressive refits and 100% reuse. We build state-of-the-art computing systems and leverage decommissioned nearly-new hardware to become an exporter of high-grade computer equipment.

The transformation towards carbon neutral computing is global. The year 2019 saw a large uptick in data centres built in China, with 74,000 data centres, making up 23% of the global total, and consuming over 160 billion kWh electricity per year. As Covid-19 accelerated digitisation across industries, the U.S. and Europe have followed the suit of data centre construction. U.S. alone saw a 340 mWh absorption in the first half of 2020. According to CBRE, an American commercial real estate services and investment firm, data centres will see record growth in 2021. The increasing demand for data around the world necessitates the development of new-generation data centres at scale. RE5Q is uniquely placed at the nexus of technology and the built environment, driving this evolution through delivery, operation and expansion of carbon neutral data centres globally.