I recently had the privilege to moderate an industry panel at Kickstart Europe 2023. It’s an annual conference in Amsterdam focused on the trends and technologies shaping the digital landscape. This year, I wanted to hear from industry peers how the energy crisis is affecting the data center industry — what are the challenges and opportunities for driving resiliency and sustainability best practices?
It’s no secret the data center industry is under scrutiny to tighten up energy use. Data center operators must adhere to strict government legislation, satisfy investor expectations, and meet customer ESG initiatives. All of this is occurring while Europe deals with a protracted energy crisis.
In a recent survey, 92% of global European business leaders acknowledged their organizations have been affected by ongoing energy volatility. This has forced the data center industry to rethink how we balance ever-increasing power demands against uncertainty over power availability. So, what can we do to mitigate volatility?
Planning is everything
I put this question to our panel of experts and the feedback was revealing. Lex Coors, Chief Datacenter Technology and Engineering Officer at Digital Realty, asserted the best way for businesses to maintain sustainability, resilience, and efficiency during times of energy volatility is by implementing a sound strategy from the outset. “Colocation companies should have started with their strategy years ago, buying the lowest-cost energy at the right moment. This approach has certainly helped us through this energy crisis,” he said.
My Schneider Electric colleague, Sara Hoefkens, Sustainability Principal for Benelux, Nordics and the rest of EMEA, agreed. She said planning is the most effective way to counter rising energy prices. She also sees planning as an opportunity for our industry to lead by example in driving decarbonization. “It’s key to have a governance plan and a robust risk- management strategy that allows businesses to proactively manage the supply-side of energy two to three years in advance.”
Steven Marles, European Business Development Director for Data Centres at Bouygues Energies & Services, made a strong case for treating sustainability efforts as an end-to-end process, stating “It starts at the beginning. We look at this from our supply chain, through our subcontractors, through our delivery models, and ensure that we are making the right decisions for our clients and are handing over a facility that can be operated in a sustainable manner.”
Driving data center sustainability through new talent
Our panel also discussed sustainable best practices and what we need to do to get to the next level. Hoefkens addressed the topic in a business context, highlighting the importance of an industry that works together and leads by example to attract and inspire new talent with fresh and innovative ideas. “The passion of this new generation of talent is part of how you’re going to be sealing the long-term value of your business,” she said.
Marles emphasized the importance of the new generation of data center engineers, who are brimming with great new ideas to promote sustainable best practices. He stressed: “They are the ones we really need to mentor.”
A shift in industry mindset
As we concluded our discussion, I reflected on a key point: I’m convinced our industry has the tools it needs to reach net zero. But it requires a change in mindset. Simply put, we must stop wasting energy! I believe Europe has the means to produce sufficient energy supplies for our industry to thrive, but to give ourselves the best chance of avoiding a potential future energy crisis, we must learn to use our limited energy supply more intelligently.
Finally, I would like to thank Kickstart Europe for giving me this opportunity to exchange ideas. Forums like these are important for our industry, allowing us to find common ground and join together by pulling in the same direction. I look forward to meeting up again in twelve months to check on our industry’s progress in driving data center efficiency, resilience, and sustainability.