When is renewable energy, not renewable energy? No, that’s not a bad Christmas cracker joke. Because the thing about renewable energy contracts is that actually, they’re often nonsense. And if your data centre provider is only using the renewable energy claim as a way to prove their responsibility, then I'm afraid you might need to start looking a little deeper at exactly how their facility is powered.
If a data centre provider is using renewable energy sources, but drawing a large amount of power, then other non-renewable energy sources will be required to meet demands. The renewable energy claim is a very easy statement to make, but buying renewable energy through your utility contract doesn’t always help bring more renewables onto the grid, or take fossil fuel generation off the grid. Solar power requires good weather or clear skies, hydro requires rains to fill dams and wind power needs the wind to be blowing at minimum speeds. The energy required to maintain these infrastructures can also be a problem as the facility costs are quite high, so even if they exist as a source, the infrastructure can be expensive and can actually require more net-power generation to run than these sources would create for quite some time. If these providers were to turn off their data centres, then there wouldn't be any more, or less, renewables coming onto the grid or being generated. It seems that the world is trying to move this way regardless of whether your electricity bill claims to be 100% renewable, or far less.
That isn’t to say we’re advocating the continued use of current energy provisions - far from it, but there needs to be an understanding that if a provider makes a statement that they are “going renewable”, this doesn’t mean they’re instantly responsible. How are they actually making a difference themselves? Are they making changes at all, or are they claiming ‘responsibility’ for the great strides and investments that other people are making?
The real difference providers need to make is behind the metre. Becoming responsible for how they use their energy - renewable or not. You need to be asking your provider what changes they are actually implementing in order to make a difference and to drive change from areas they can control.
So rather than sticking a “powered by renewable energy” logo on their website and doing no more, data centres need to focus on carbon reduction and environmental responsibility - their side of the metre? - rather than backing it off to third parties. For example, installing blanking plates, cold aisle containment, raising cold aisle temperatures by a couple of degrees, installing the most efficient tech on the market and training staff to behave responsibly are all small actions that providers can be taking, to make a big difference.
In fact, if your provider isn’t taking these behind-the-metre steps, but is taking 100% renewable energy off the grid and then wasting it on their site by being inefficient and creating more CO2 emissions than they need to, then they are being totally counter-productive.
Customers need to demand more to drive change. If your data centre or cloud provider makes the statement - “we buy renewable energy” - then ask them what steps they’re taking to ensure that power is used responsibly to ensure minimal wastage. Because if they’re doing the bare minimum, quite frankly, it isn’t good enough.