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International Code Council focuses on energy efficiency

International Code Council focuses on energy efficiency

Construction Global Dominic Ellis informs that the International Code Council focuses on energy efficiency to mitigate the built environment’s inherent high carbon emission. It is fundamentally evident to everyone that the Environmental Impact of the Global Built Environment is no more a debatable topic. It is about Reducing the environmental impact of the global built environment sector.

New International Code Council framework will drive energy efficiencies but climate change demands quicker implementation.

The International Code Council has released a new framework to assist governments and building industry stakeholders in meeting energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction goals.  

The Code Council Board of Directors, which consists of 18 government code officials who were elected by their peers, adopted the framework, Leading the Way to Energy Efficiency: A Path Forward on Energy and Sustainability to Confront a Changing Climate

This framework includes using the Code Council’s American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved standards process to update the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).  

Future editions of the IECC will build on prior successes including an increase of efficiency requirements by about 40%, or an average of 8% a cycle from 2006 to 2021, allowing the IECC to remain a strong avenue for communities to reach their energy efficiency and sustainability goals globally. 

With the base 2021 IECC efficiency requirements just 10% away from net zero for residential buildings, under the new framework future editions of the IECC will increase base efficiency using a balancing test proposed in bipartisan legislation that has cleared the US House and Senate and has been supported by energy efficiency advocates and the building industry

The IECC will be developed under a revised scope and be part of a portfolio of greenhouse gas reduction solutions that could address electric vehicles, electrification and decarbonization, integration of renewable energy and energy storage, existing buildings performance standards and more. 

The Code Council’s new framework will also provide optional requirements aimed at achieving net zero energy buildings presently and by 2030. Using a tiered approach, the framework offers adopting jurisdictions a menu of options, from a set of minimum requirements to pathways to net zero energy and additional greenhouse gas reduction policies.   

The Code Council has also announced the establishment of an Energy and Carbon Advisory Council which will consist of governmental and industry leaders to inform the Code Council’s efforts. 

The Energy and Carbon Advisory Council will advise on which additional greenhouse gas reduction policies the IECC should integrate, the pace that the IECC’s baseline efficiency requirements should advance, plus needs and gaps that the Code Council should work to address. The Code Council will begin outreach to fill the Energy and Carbon Advisory Council in March. 

Focus on climate and energy efficiency globally

The Use of Climate Data and Assessment of Extreme Weather Event Risks in Building Codes Around the World was published last month. 

Climate data is frequently only updated on a 10-year cycle on average, so as weather becomes more severe from year to year, the underlying data simply does not accurately reflect the risk to the building of these extreme weather-related events. International Codes are updated on a three-year cycle.

Climate change, coupled with net zero emission targets, is focusing minds to act faster.

From the end of this year, all new buildings in Singapore will face higher minimum energy performance requirements, according to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA). It will raise the minimum energy performance requirements for new buildings and existing buildings that undergo major retrofit, to be 50% and 40% more energy efficient respectively, compared with 2005 levels. The city state aims to ‘green’ 80% of buildings by 2030.

The Net Zero Home standard developed by CCG (Scotland) is intended to deliver a standard of specification that reduces greenhouse gas emissions arising from regulated operational energy use to a rate less than or equal to 0kg C02/m2/year. 

A new construction products national regulator is imminent in the UK, in a bid to bolster standards following the Grenfell inquiry.  

Engineer The Planet To Help Fight Climate Change

Engineer The Planet To Help Fight Climate Change

Posted By Scientific Foresight (STOA) is this article asking “What If We Could Engineer The Planet To Help Fight Climate Change?” It is a Science And Technology Podcast as well.

The picture above is for illustration ans of The New Yorker.

What If We Could Engineer The Planet To Help Fight Climate Change?

Written by Lieve Van Woensel

Engineer The Planet To Help Fight Climate Change
©phonlamaiphoto AdobeStock

Efforts to curb carbon emissions are falling short. As climate change impacts become all too clear, geoengineering is again in the spotlight. Some see it as a last-resort option to fight climate change. Detractors highlight the risks and uncertainties. Will governments end up ‘tinkering with Earth’s thermostat’?

In the summer of 2018, a succession of heatwaves struck the EU. Record-breaking temperatures were reported, and wildfires ravaged the continent. Sweden suffered the worst forest fires in modern history. In Greece, blazes swept through Attica and left 102 dead. For many citizens, wildfires threw the reality of climate change into sharp relief.

Under the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 countries pledged to keep global warming well below 2°C. But progress in curbing carbon emissions is not on track. If the current trend is not reversed, extreme weather events like the 2018 heatwave will become more and more frequent.

Large-scale tree planting and direct air capture (DAC) are being considered to boost these efforts. While these are steps in the right direction – and could end up playing a significant role in tackling climate change – DAC is currently very costly and energy intensive, and planting trees can only help so much.

Geoengineering refers to large-scale interventions in the global climate system, intended to counteract climate change. In 2008, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity called for a moratorium on geoengineering ‘until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities’. Only a decade later, scientists and policy-makers are again looking for last-ditch solutions to buy some extra time. Geoengineering is again in the spotlight.

Potential impacts and developments

Geoengineering includes a number of techniques of varying complexity, risk, and cost. In policy-making, the debate revolves almost entirely around ‘solar geoengineering‘. This describes a set of methods aimed at cooling the planet by reflecting a portion of solar energy back into space, or increasing the amount of solar radiation that escapes the Earth.

Cirrus clouds are known to have a warming effect on Earth. Seeding the atmosphere with innocuous Sahara dust would prevent the formation of cirrus clouds, and reduce global temperatures. Stratospheric aerosol injection entails creating an artificial sunshade by injecting reflective particles in the stratosphere. Its working principle is based in nature. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 pumped around 15 million tons of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere; in the two years that followed, global temperatures decreased by about 1°C.

Solar geoengineering would be inexpensive, and scientists agree on its potential. Without actions to reduce emissions, the concentration of CO2 is likely to be double pre-industrial levels by 2060. In theory, getting rid of all cirrus clouds would balance the doubling of CO2; so would using stratospheric particle injection to reflect 2 % of the incoming solar radiation.

But there is no simple solution. For a start, solar geoengineering does not target the root of the problem; it only mitigates its effects. Solar geoengineering has never been tried before. If done incorrectly, it could cause even more global warming; and there could be other unintended consequences. The real challenge, however, may not be technological but rather one of governance. Climate politics is slow and complex; agreeing on using untested technology on a planetary scale could prove impossible. Who decides to use solar geoengineering? Who benefits from it? Who is affected?

Solar geoengineering is a geopolitical issue. The atmosphere has no borders, and the actions of some countries could affect the climate of others. To make matters worse, the science is not always conclusive. Some climate models suggest that almost every region in the world would benefit from solar geoengineering. Other scientists claim that since heat-trapping gases would still operate, temperatures would be more evenly distributed. This would reduce precipitation. Such a geoengineered world would be cooler, but also drier.

Many stakeholders see a moral hazard in solar geoengineering. All efforts are now focused on reducing emissions. With new tools in their climatic toolbox, governments could become complacent. Scientists insist that geoengineering is a supplement and not a substitute for mitigation. For example, solar geoengineering will not solve ocean acidification, and its impact on the water cycle is uncertain. Eventually, part or all the carbon released into the atmosphere will need to be recaptured, regardless of whether geoengineering is used or not.

To some citizens, meddling with the climate may sound like playing god. But across the world, about 40 % of the population live within 100 kilometres of the coast. Rising sea levels will threaten these coastal communities. Many regions will see more intense and frequent summer droughtsextreme weather events, and heavy rainfall. This could strain the fragile agricultural systems in the global South, sparking an exodus of climate refugees. As the consequences of climate change accumulate, the public’s opinion on solar geoengineering could shift rapidly.

Perceptions could be as important as the science. In 1962, the US started a programme to weaken hurricanes through seeding. In 1963, Hurricane Flora caused thousands of deaths in Cuba. The Cuban government accused the US of waging weather warfare. Similarly, any country suffering from extreme weather could blame geoengineers. In addition, geoengineering would be deployed progressively. Its effects would be initially difficult to decouple from natural fluctuations and climate change. Detractors would be quick to discard it as a failed idea.

There is a bigger problem, however. Once started, solar geoengineering cannot be stopped. Assuming that carbon emissions continued, the artificial sunshade would mask increasing amounts of extra warming. If geoengineering ceased abruptly – due to sabotage, technical, or political reasons – temperatures would shoot up rapidly. This termination shock would be catastrophic for humans and ecosystems.

Anticipatory policy-making

Solar geoengineering should only be considered as a last-resort solution. There is ample consensus that cutting emissions is the safestmost economical route to tackling climate change. The world needs a climate champion to accelerate these efforts, and the EU could lead the way.

Ultimately, the debate surrounding solar geoengineering could come down to balancing the risks and benefits. Solar geoengineering is not without risks. However, failing to mitigate climate change will also bring major new risks, disrupt ecosystems across the world, and hit the most vulnerable regions particularly hard.

Ironically, one reason that solar geoengineering may become necessary is the slow pace of international climate negotiations. Yet discussions on geoengineering are following the same path. Should solar geoengineering become necessary, governments need to be ready. The EU could help advance preparedness in this area; for example, by throwing its diplomatic weight behind multilateral initiatives moving in this direction.

The EU and its partners could promote an international governance framework for solar geoengineering. However, all parties must be on board. There are real risks that some of the countries worst affected by climate change could act unilaterally. Even if well-intentioned, this could create geopolitical tension. An international regulation system would ensure that no country ‘goes rogue’, and that geoengineering is not done for some at the expense of others.

The EU could also support research on solar geoengineering. Studies and trials may have been hampered by fears of promoting a quick ‘technofix’. But if geoengineering became necessary to avert disaster, its full effects must be known. Current techniques are criticised for posing a risk to biodiversity, precipitation patterns, and the ozone layer. A better understanding of these problems is the first step towards tackling them. Research could also help governance. For example, counter-geoengineering tools could serve as a deterrent against unilateral action.


Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘What if we could engineer the planet to help fight climate change?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to Science and Technology podcast ‘What if we could engineer the planet to help fight climate change?’ on YouTube.


Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World

Or as originally titled as The perils of relying on high-tech networks in a warmer world (commentary) by Simon Pollock in this Article published by Willie Shubert in Mongabay. We all know that Smart cities, e-governance help urban resilience but would it be the case in these circumstances of a warmer world.

The picture above is for illustration purpose and is of Smart Cities World.

The perils of relying on high-tech networks in a warmer world

25 February 2021

  • Wild snowstorms paralyzed electricity infrastructure in Texas, a state in the country with the world’s largest economy.
  • Just imagine what climate change fueled extreme weather will do to our cities as infrastructure and ICT systems become increasingly interconnected.
  • Many see high-tech “smart cities” as a climate solution, but just how smart are they?
  • This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Smart cities are held up as beacons of hope in meeting the climate crisis. This is because they reduce greenhouse gas emissions by paring back energy use and urban waste. But is it possible the high-tech complexity of smart cities actually leaves urban dwellers more exposed to future climate disaster? Smart cities’ dependence on the information and communications technology (ICT) systems that help generate these emission reductions may actually be opening up new climate vulnerabilities when we consider what happens if these systems fail. There is a danger that we fall into the trap of assuming that a reliance on increasingly high-tech solutions is our “get out of jail free” card for everything.

We need to think more about whether our increasing reliance on interconnected information-based technology includes adequate fails safes to protect against systematic collapse if cities are hit by outside stresses – including climate-induced shocks. A number of experts working in the field of urban climate adaptation believe this issue is not receiving adequate attention.

Considering that about 55 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities, and this figure is projected to rise to seven out of 10 people by 2050, we ignore this issue at our possible peril.

The definition of what actually makes a smart city is not clear cut. There is general agreement though that they share an ability to combine real time data and digital technology to improve people’s decisions on when to use energy and when to move around, while also contributing to more efficient long-term city planning.  Sensors and people’s ubiquitous use of smartphones, for instance, encourage urban residents to use public transit during off-peak hours to avoid large crowds and to access energy and water services at different times of the day to lessen demand surges.

Smart emission reduction

Smart cities reduce carbon footprints by utilizing interconnected ICT systems to create greater efficiencies. These can come in the form of more energy efficient buildings and street lighting, better waste management, smart energy meters that allow consumers to tap cheaper off-peak power, and electrified public transport links that best conform with people flows. Largely absent from positive depictions of smart cities’ ability to reduce emissions though are considerations of how robust the ICT systems are that make them smart.

In his book published last year, “Apocalypse How”, former UK politician Oliver Letwin issues an arresting warning about whether we are adequately assessing the way our growing reliance on technological connectivity opens our societies to vulnerabilities. Letwin provides a detailed portrayal of how the physical and human infrastructure of UK society would break down quickly if there was a systematic failure of the internet and associated services, including banking and satellite-based communication and navigation. He predicts this would lead quickly to a large number of deaths (in his synopsis due to the failure of indoor heating) and, ultimately, a breakdown of law and order.

The title of Letwin’s book is a misnomer (possibly with a suggested nod by the publisher to the current popularity of dystopian literature and TV) as the ICT breakdown he posits –associated with internet-busting solar flares – is rectified in a few days. While Letwin does not address climate change, his book does provide a useful thought experiment in highlighting the way our fragile modern society is increasingly dependent on the ICT systems that connect us and our machines. Isn’t it possible that the increasingly extreme effects of climate change – such as floods, hurricanes and extended droughts – could, ironically, threaten the integrity of the smart city ICT networks designed to help mitigate global heating?

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
An overreliance on interconnected ICT urban networks also raises the possibility of devastating systematic collapse – including through rapid climate-induced disasters. Image by j_lloa (Pixabay).

Enmeshed in the ICT era

Humanity’s increasing reliance on technology is by no means new. It began with the use of simple tools and fire, leading to gradually more sophisticated irrigation and animal husbandry. During the past few decades, the use technology has carved out a central part of our lives – accelerating rapidly with the invention of steam power (which, along with the myriad benefits of fossil fuel-powered modernity, began the current trajectory to the climate crisis we now face). The extent to which we now use technology-based communication and interconnectivity though is unprecedented. Today’s generation is deeply enmeshed in the ICT era, equally as it is within the Anthropocene era.

Richard Dawson, an urban climate expert based at the UK’s Newcastle University, warns of a “cascading failure” if single ICT components fail. Dawson says we need to upgrade our thinking about urban infrastructure connections beyond a traditional focus on electricity, road, rail and sewage systems. “The increasing reliance on data and ICT in urban planning is a double-edged sword,” he said. “It allows for incredible flexibility – to create new communication lines we don’t have to dig up a road.  We could live without being able to talk across continents if telecommunications fail, but we would struggle if this breakdown led to a mass system failure.”

A loss of ICT interconnectivity has implications far beyond the failure of systems employed to create urban efficiencies and, therefore, reduce emissions. The rapid speed at which ICT systems operate could actually work against us if they fail, as the negative effects would be sharp and sudden. Dawson points out the loss of electronic banking could quickly lead to social problems. This would be particularly worrisome if this occurs as the result of a climate disaster when a ready access to personal finance is so important.

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
The way megacities are emerging now in developing countries may well determine whether we are able to overcome the climate challenge. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay

Strange conspiracy theories

The US Government found that many of the social problems following Hurricane Katrina’s destructive descent on New Orleans in 2005 arose from “information gaps”. While accounts  of rioting and other lawlessness at the time were later described as exaggerated, numerous reports do indicate communication breakdowns did severely impact social cohesion. Professor Ayyoob Sharifi, from Japan’s Hiroshima University, warns the ICT systems that control smart cities are not just prone to disruption from uncontrolled disaster, but also from intentional human-created harm.

The curation of social media misinformation by individuals or organizations, including overseas governments, could overcome local officials’ attempts to prevent the outbreak of havoc when disaster strikes, said Sharifi, who studies urban climate measures. This could include the dissemination of purposefully incorrect information about where to take shelter during flooding. Purported attempts by the Russian Government to use social media to sway election results in the US and Europe shows that anonymous attempts to sway public perceptions can be effective.

The ability of strange conspiracy theories, especially if abetted by unscrupulous populist politicians such as former US President Donald Trump, to cut through the daily online traffic and garner widespread support shows that social media is not always the best medium to convey factual information. Social media, usually accessed by smart phones, is an important part of the two-way communication interface of smart cities, as it is with many forms of climate early warning systems.

How do we ensure then that the commendable work of climate proofing cities does not lead us down cul de sacs of urban planning where an overreliance on ICT connections actually increases the potential for climate disruption? One way is to take a holistic approach that incorporates different approaches to urban dynamics.

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
A informal neighborhood in Caracas. In view of climate-induced disasters, it’s important that all urban dwellers be included in the decisions that shape their cities, smart or not. Image by Wilfredor via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

Future megacities

Future Earth’s Urban Knowledge-Action Network – a global group of researchers and other policy, business and civil society innovators – is striving to make cities more sustainable and equitable by highlighting the human element in democratizing data and including underrepresented voices in city planning.

Local Governments for Sustainability, known as ICLEI, is another global network – comprising local and regional governments in over 100 countries – that advocates cities that weather rapid urbanization and climate change by combining sustainable and equitable solutions.

Nazmul Huq, ICLEI’s head of resilient development, says people need to be placed at the centre of all urban management – especially in developing countries, many of which are now entering intense urbanization. Rapid interconnectivity in the new urban hot spots of growth in India, China and Nigeria is creating advantage and potential disadvantage at a rapid pace.

“The emergence of ICT, especially mobile phones, represents a revolution for poorer people in developing countries as it provides them with greater control over their lives,” Huq said. “But at the same time, an overreliance on interconnected ICT urban networks also raises the possibility of devastating systematic collapse – including through rapid climate-induced disasters such as heat waves. This could disconnect people, while knocking out internet connections and electricity generation.”

Huq said the most important factor in making cities livable – whether they are smart or not – is to include all urban citizens, including disadvantaged groups, in the decisions that shape their urban spaces. “We must ensure the voices of the poor and marginalized are heard to avoid injustice and unequal distribution of the benefits of city life,” he added.

The way megacities are emerging now in developing countries may well determine whether we are able to overcome the climate challenge – especially considering that 70 percent of greenhouse gases come from today’s cities. Under current trends, it seems likely the lives of those rich and poor will become increasingly urbanized and interconnected by smart city ICT systems.

The sheer enormity of the climate challenge means we need to consider all options, including seeking out technological solutions. We should, however, balance our desire to be smart and interconnected with urban planning that at least considers the fragility of our city systems and what happens when they don’t work. We must not allow our thirst for technology to overcome our human need to consider nature.

Banner image caption: City of London skyline by Colin via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

Simon Pollock is an Australian-British writer and climate change communicator based in South Korea. Before leaving the Australian Government in 2016, he was a member of the startup team that launched Al Jazeera English Television from its Asia HQ in Kuala Lumpur. Simon’s interest in development and environmental issues stemmed from observation of how the two don’t always mix during six years in Beijing as a Kyodo News reporter.

Malta can truly kick-start a green revolution

Malta can truly kick-start a green revolution

The start to a green revolution – Cyrus Engerer and Stephanie Fabri elaborate on how Malta can truly kick-start a green revolution.

Malta can truly kick-start a green revolution

By Cyrus Engerer and Stephanie Fabri

As the world struggles with COVID-19, the challenges of climate change and wider environmental problems loom large. It is clear that the economic response to the impact of COVID-19 must benefit the environment while plans to address climate change and environmental issues must benefit the economy and society. The only way these twin imperatives can be met is through a green revolution that transcends our economy and society.

This was our task when we both chaired the first Intelligent Planning Consultative Forum that was established by Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia. The aim of the forum was to bring together all stakeholders involved in the planning and construction sectors to start coming up with ways in which we can transform and transition planning and construction which is smart, green and sustainable.

The result of this forum and the discussions we led is the green policy document on green walls and roofs together with the recently-launched scheme by the government to incentivise such improvements.

This incentive scheme should be seen as the first step towards having greener and more sustainable buildings. The benefits of such interventions are major given that they result in low energy consumption and decreased carbon emissions while mitigating the effects of roof flooding. This happens as the green infrastructure, walls or roofs, acts as a protective layer for buildings, absorbing heat and excess water.

Additionally, the utilisation of local fauna in such projects would create various pollination havens across the island, helping to restore natural biodiversity – a key aim of the EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy. The utilisation of Maltese fauna could have the additional benefit of requiring minimal maintenance and reduce the consumption of water.

Such initiatives also have macro effects including the creation of additional value-adding activities and green jobs. Together with other initiatives and incentives, the demand for such products could even help kickstart a whole new industry focused on green construction.One of Malta’s biggest opportunities in the Green Deal is greening the construction sector

In fact, one of Malta’s biggest opportunities in the Green Deal is greening the construction sector which remains a significant contributor to economic growth. The EU recently launched the New European Bauhaus and, in a statement, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that “the New European Bauhaus is about how we live better together after the pandemic while respecting the planet and protecting our environment. It is about empowering those who have the solutions to the climate crisis, matching sustainability with style”.

This is something we believe can truly support the country in its next phase of design, planning and construction. Malta and Europe have a number of common challenges. Whereas the original Bauhaus was focused on new designs, the biggest challenge we face is of renovation, regeneration and retrofitting.

We are surrounded by buildings and infrastructures, home to both embodied carbon and embedded histories. A design and architecture for this problem requires a quite different sensibility. It implies a refining in place, understanding repair and retrofit cultures and developing new logics predicated on care and maintenance.

These approaches, in line with the EU Recovery Strategy, necessitate new ways of unleashing the societal value latent in people and place. Producing anew in this way is far more challenging than simply making new things –although new things will emerge.

Malta has a unique potential in this and, if leveraged properly, we can truly kick-start a green revolution in our planning and building industries. We are confident that the new phase of the Intelligent Planning Consultative Forum will look into this and, together with the environment minister, a new era of Malta’s planning and construction industry can commence, one that is smart, green and sustainable.

The green wall and roof initiative and support scheme is a step in the right direction.

Cyrus Engerer is a Labour MEP and Stephanie Fabri is an economist and a lecturer at the University of Malta.

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability

Rich Miller writes in DATACENTERFrontier that Beyond Green Power: New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability can easily be envisioned as these are increasingly populating planet earth.

Above picture is of Large pipes sporting Google’s logo colors move water throughout the cooling plant at the Google’ data center in Douglas County, Georgia. (Photo: Google)

February 3, 2021

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability
Get the full report.

Sustainable Construction Strategies

More data center projects will integrate sustainability into design and construction, with early collaboration between teams to minimize the environmental impact of the construction process and create a building with low operational carbon impact, enabling more effective and cost-efficient offset strategies. Design collaboration is essential in seeking to integrate cleaner technologies into the power chain and cooling systems.

Several data center providers are working with CarbonCure, which makes a low-carbon “greener” concrete material for the tile-up walls that frame data centers. Concrete’s durability and strength are ideal for industrial construction, but the production of cement requires the use of massive kilns, which require large amounts of energy, and the actual chemical process emits staggeringly high levels of CO2. CarbonCure takes CO2 produced by large emitters like refineries and chemically mineralizes it during the concrete manufacturing process to make greener and stronger concrete. The process reduces the volume of cement required in the mixing of concrete, while also permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Waste Stream Accountability and the ‘Circular Economy’

A key priority is tracking the environmental impact of construction components, including a “reverse logistics” process to track the waste stream and disposition of debris. Asset recovery and recycling specialists will become key partners, and the most successful projects will communicate goals and best practices across the contractors and trades participating in each project. The goal is a “circular economy” that reuses and repurposes materials.

Managing packaging for equipment that is shipped to a data center facility is an important and often underlooked facet of waste stream accountability. There are also opportunities in reuse of components and equipment that that can still be productive (although this must be closely managed in a mission-critical environment).

The ability to document a net-zero waste stream impact has the potential to emerge as an additional metric for data center service providers, as customers consider the entirety of their supplier’s sustainability programs.

Green Certifications

As customers ask tougher questions about a providers’ environmental practices and corporate social responsibility policies, certifications may emerge as another avenue for service providers to differentiate themselves.

Several ISO certifications, including ISO 50001 and ISO 14001, which Iron Mountain is certified for across its global data center portfolio, focus on energy management and provide frameworks that can assure stakeholders that the provider is considering energy impact and environmental goals in audits, communications, labeling and equipment life cycle analysis.

Water Conservation and Management

Amid changing weather patterns, many areas of the world are facing drought conditions and water is becoming a scarcer and more valuable resource. Data center operators are stepping up their efforts to reduce their reliance on potable water supplies.

Sustainable water strategies include both sourcing and design. On the sourcing front, several Google facilities include water treatment plants that allow it to cool its servers using local bodies of water or waste water from municipal water systems. Data center districts in Ashburn (Va.), Quincy (Washington) and San Antonio offer “grey water” feeds that provide recycled waste water to industrial customers.

On the design front, more providers are choosing cooling systems with minimal need for water, while others are incorporating rainwater recovery strategies that capture rain from huge roofs or parking lots and store it on site, reducing potential burden on local water systems.

Matching Workloads to Renewable Energy

Google has been a leader in the use of artificial intelligence and sophisticated energy provisioning to match its operations to carbon-free energy sources. The company recently said it will power its entire global information empire entirely with carbon-free energy by 2030, matching every hour of its data center operations to carbon-free energy sources. This marks an ambitious step forward in using technology to create exceptional sustainability.

Google can currently account for all its operations with energy purchases. But the intermittent nature of renewable energy creates challenges in matching green power to IT operations around the clock. Solar power is only available during daylight hours. Wind energy can be used at night, but not when the wind dies down. Google created a “carbon-intelligent computing platform” that optimizes for green energy by rescheduling workloads that are not time-sensitive, matching workloads to solar power during the day, and wind energy in the evening, for example. The company also hopes to move workloads between data centers to boost its use of renewables, a strategy that offers even greater potential gains by shifting data center capacity to locations where green energy is more plentiful, routing around utilities that are slow to adopt renewables.

Google has pledged to share its advances with the broader data center industry, providing others with the tools to reduce carbon impact. Continued instrumentation of older data centers is a key step in this direction.

Eliminating Diesel Generators

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability
A backup generator at a Microsoft data center in Virginia. (Photo: Rich Miller)

Microsoft recently announced plans to eliminate its reliance on diesel fuel by the year 2030, which has major implications for the company’s data centers, many of which use diesel-powered generators for emergency backup power. With its new deadline, Microsoft sets in motion a push to either replace its generators with cleaner technologies, or perhaps eliminate them altogether by managing resiliency through software.

Eliminating expensive generators and UPS systems has been a goal for some hyperscale providers. Facebook chose Lulea, Sweden for a data center because the robust local power grid allowed it to operate with fewer generators. In the U.S., providers have experimented with “data stations” that operate with no generators on highly-reliable locations on the power grid.

There are four primary options companies have pursued as alternatives to generators — fuel cells, lithium-ion batteries, shifting capacity to smaller edge data centers that can more easily run on batteries, and shifting to cloud-based resiliency.

Fuel Cells and On-Site Power

Microsoft has successfully tested the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power its data center servers. The company called the test “a worldwide first that could jump-start a long-forecast clean energy economy built around the most abundant element in the universe.”

Microsoft said it recently ran a row of 10 racks of Microsoft Azure cloud servers for 48 hours using a 250-kilowatt hydrogen-powered fuel cell system at a facility near Salt Lake City, Utah. Since most data center power outages last less than 48 hours, the test offered a strong case that fuel cells could be used in place of diesel generators to keep a data center operating through a utility outage.

Some companies, like Equinix and eBay, have deployed Bloom Energy fuel cells to improve reliability and cut energy costs, but have powered them with natural gas. The use of biofuels looms as another potential avenue to pair fuel cells with renewable sourcing.

Energy Storage

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability
An illustration of the Tesla Megapack, which provides 3 megawatts of energy storage capacity. (Image: Tesla)

Utility-scale energy storage has long been the missing link in the data center industry’s effort to power the cloud with renewable energy. Energy storage could overcome the intermittent generation patterns of leading renewable sources. Solar panels only generate power when the sun is shining, and wind turbines are idle in calm weather. Energy storage could address that gap, allowing renewable power to be stored for use overnight and on windless days.

A new project in Nevada will showcase a potential solution from Tesla, the electric car company led by tech visionary Elon Musk. Data center technology company Switch will use new large-scale energy storage technology from Tesla to boost its use of solar energy for its massive data center campuses in Las Vegas and Reno. It is a promising project in pioneering a holistic integration of renewable power, energy storage and Internet-scale data centers.

Talking Sustainability With Experts

Don’t miss the last installment of this series that features a conversation on the future of sustainable data centers. Data Center Frontier Editor Rich Miller discusses the topic with Kevin Hagen, Director, Corporate Responsibility at Iron Mountain, and Alex Sharp, Global Head of Design & Construction — Data Centers at Iron Mountain.

It’s a preview of the upcoming webinar  where these experts will discuss sustainability strategies for greener data centers.

And catch up on the first entry here, followed by an exploration of the power of the “negawatt.” 

Download the full report, Green Data Centers and The Sustainability Imperative, courtesy of Iron Mountain, to explore how climate change and a greening of data centers is changing the industry.

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