Power supply shortages in colocation hubs pile pressure on datacentre operators to go green

As demand for colocation capacity continues to soar in datacentre hubs, operators are coming under increasing pressure to go green, say Telehouse Europe panel participants

The power supply issues that have blighted various colocation hubs across Europe in recent years are seeing datacentre operators come under growing pressure from governments and IT buyers to do more on sustainability, it is claimed.

The past 18 months have seen various colocation firms across Europe go public with plans to ramp up their use of renewable energy and take steps to curb the amount of carbon emissions generated by their operations.

These efforts coincide with the European Commission publishing details of its Shaping Europe’s digital future strategy document in February 2020, which set the continent’s datacentre operators a challenge to become “climate neutral” by 2030.

During a roundtable hosted by Docklands-based colocation provider Telehouse Europe, the company’s senior director of customer experience, Mark Pestridge, asked the panel – which included representatives from TechUK and real-estate consultancy CBRE – about the feasibility of hitting the 2030 target.

In response, Telehouse Europe’s head of engineering, Oliver Goodman, said the datacentre industry is well positioned to meet the 2030 objective, as finding ways to drive up the energy efficiency of their facilities is a long-standing focus for operators.  

“The datacentre industry has been talking about improving our efficiency and becoming more sustainable for 16 years and we are well in advance of many other industries in that respect, but there is still a lot that we can do,” said Goodman.

“The 2030 goal is achievable. We are a lot of the way there, but it’s about finding the final big push as an industry, so that we can say that we led from the front on it, rather than be forced, kicking and screaming, to meet the target in the final few months.”

Government and regulatory pressure to do more on green issues is one reason why so many operators are going public with their sustainability plans, said Goodman. But green issues are also becoming a top-of-mind concern for IT buyers and – in Telehouse Europe’s case – its internal stakeholders, too.

“Our customers are definitely the external driving force for our business [on sustainability issues],” he said. “The second one would be our own executive board and stakeholders, who want us to be driving that.”

Pestridge said the company is coming up against questions about sustainability from its customers “every day”, adding: “Every kind of bid we put together now has a heavy requirement to fulfil certain obligations from a sustainability and environmental perspective.”

On that point, Sue Daley, associate director of technology and innovation at IT trade body TechUK, said the looming threat of a global climate crisis is of growing concern to both IT suppliers and buyers.

“The importance of addressing climate change and sustainability issues is a key priority area for our members, as it is for the sector, and the concerns about the future of the planet and climate change are really driving it, but it’s not that we’re starting from scratch – there’s already a lot of work going on,” she said.

“There is also a huge level of ambition for what can be done, particularly being expressed by the large tech companies that are looking at their environmental impact, so there’s a real swell of focus.”

The purpose of the roundtable was to discuss the findings of Telehouse’s Vision 2030 report, which saw 250 IT decision-makers quizzed on how they think cloud, edge compute and colocation trends will play out over the coming decade.

The report’s respondents flagged sustainability as the second-biggest challenge their organisations will need to rise to by 2030, while 86% of respondents cited it as an important factor in their IT infrastructure decision-making processes.

More than half of the respondents said they were confident that the datacentre sector will hit the European Commission’s 2030 climate-neutral objective.

In the meantime, the sector has some more immediate challenges on the sustainability front that it needs to be mindful of, said Penny Madsen-Jones, director of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) datacentre research at CBRE.

The colocation industry is going through a prolonged growth spurt, fuelled in no small part by the near-insatiable appetite of the hyperscaler cloud and internet giants for datacentre capacity within the major European datacentre hubs, she said.

With a growing number of datacentres now drawing power from the grid, power supplies in some locations are becoming acutely squeezed, which may have a dampening impact on the sector’s growth potential in the future.

Expanding on this point, Madsen-Jones said CBRE data suggests an additional 109MW of datacentre capacity will come online within the London market during 2021, followed by a further 177MW the following year.

“A large amount of that is coming online in the western corridor of London, where there is actually not a lot of power supply left,” she said. “The transmission system can’t carry enough power in Dublin, and we have had the moratorium [on new datacentre builds] in Amsterdam. Constituents and governments are really concerned about how much energy this industry is using.”

One of the side-effects of these power supply problems is that it has drawn even more attention to the datacentre sector’s energy consumption habits, and the sustainability credentials of the operators who populate it, said Madsen-Jones.

“Until we’ve had these power problems, we saw it drop off [in sustainability] as a real consideration in RFPs [requests for proposals] and what customers were looking at,” she said.

“It came to a point where it was just expected that your datacentre provider would be as efficient as it possibly could because of the cost savings that come with that, but I do think we are getting more of a focus on sustainability.’

Madsen-Jones added: “The industry is going to have to promote its sustainability credentials a lot more. Governments are looking a lot more closely at the industry, so I think we’ll see more of the Amsterdam-type moratoriums happen in other cities across Europe as well.”


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