Data Centers Denmark event focused on sustainability and innovation

The debate at the event went from “villains” to “electricity-racism” to talks about the “secret sauce” to success. But the focus was without a doubt on data center sustainability at every layer of the industry, spearheaded by the 40 international speakers of the day.

Data Centers Denmark took place in the UN City in Copenhagen, gathering a crowd of international data center professionals and over 280 attendees from 13 different countries.

The event was organized by the Danish Data Center Industry, in collaboration with UNEP-DTU Partnership, focusing on the design and build of sustainable data centers. A topic of various layers and nuances with many challenges today and in the near future, as we are faced with rapidly escalating global climate changes.

“The large hyperscale campuses are more energy efficient, than the ones that they are replacing”, said John Christensen, the Director of UNEP DTU Partnership.

“But the big question is whether we can work together with the demand side. My daughter for example, had never thought about how much CO2 emissions a tweet releases until I told her. Younger generations need to be made aware of the impact of data usage, and that each one of us can make a difference, but if you start to preach to the rest of the world, you may run into challenges”.

However, many indicators suggest that we can use data with a “clean” conscious – also in a future where the demand will keep increasing.

“We are committed to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2020 – and this goal is part of a larger project to reduce our CO2 footprint with 75 percent in 2020”, said Vince Van Son, Director of Energy and Infrastructure at Facebook.

In 2018, the goal for Facebook was 50 percent renewable energy, but they ended up reaching 75 percent, so the company is well underway to reach its 100 percent green energy target.

“Power purchase agreements are an important tool for us, and they often are the driving force behind getting new renewable energy projects to succeed without any environmental costs”, added Van Son.

To illustrate the growth, and the challenges with renewable energy, he outlined in his presentation how Facebook currently has more data centers under construction than in operation. But the company’s solar and wind energy usage is increasing rapidly. A great example here is Facebook’s Odense data center in Denmark, which will use green power sources from Norwegian windfarms.

“We have financed the production and the connectivity links, and in doing this, we are supporting the target set by Denmark to use more green energy from offshore wind power.  All of our investments are made voluntarily and are not supported by any public funds”.

”The purchase of renewables by companies helps to lower the costs for all consumers. Our actions are removing barriers and inspiring others,” said the Facebook executive.

The first panel debate of the day was moderated by Stanford University’s Susanna Kass, who asked representatives from Microsoft and Google, about their approach to sustainable consumption.

“Mankind is undergoing a significant change right now, as we navigate the new industrial revolution, and in the center of it all is the data center. Think of the old factories with smoke coming out of the chimneys – we can learn from the past and design sustainability into the process from the very beginning,” said Sean James, Head of Energy Research at Microsoft.

Microsoft decided to build its own data centers in 2007. Operating at a larger scale makes more sense from an energy efficiency perspective, and the IT giant is putting a lot of its efforts into R&D, for example utilizing liquid cooling to cool down its server and using PPA’s to purchase renewable energy.

“I am very proud of the commitment into renewable energy by the data center industry. The industry is not told to do this by directives or legislations, we are doing this by our own initiatives, and we are very dedicated to the cause. Anyone at Microsoft who makes any decisions, is able to immediately see their CO2 footprint in their own accounts – whether we are talking about a building project or a trip to Europe,” adds Sean James.

Google is equally working hard to reach 100 percent renewables in its own data centers.

”We also need to account for other regions, where the climate is warmer and  has limited access to renewables. Therefore, we cannot guarantee that our data centers in those regions use renewable energy 24/7, but it is our long-term goal,” highlighted Alaa Salama, Program Manager for Data Center Sustainability at Google.

“In Finland, we have reached around 99 percent green energy, whereas in places such as Iowa it is a different story. We are also looking into onsite energy production. In Belgium we have around 10,000 solar panels installed at the data center, but this unfortunately only reaches around 3 percent of the total usage. We are committed to further invest in renewable energy and new innovations – every site has its own specific environment and a tailor-made approach on how we can reach our 100 percent green energy targets”.

After the morning plenary sessions, the conference broke into two tracks, making room for various debates and case studies.

In one of the panel debates, Lars Aagaard, CEO of the Danish Energy Association, pointed that data centers can indeed contribute to balancing renewables.

“Can you help us make the consumption more flexible, so that we can invest less in network and backup? If the industry shows flexibility, it would be more significant in relation to energy storage, so that we can alleviate the very expensive demands during peak hours,” said Lars Aagard, who also commented on the political landscape.

”I am not a fan of those politicians who are exhibiting “electricity-racism”, which they do for some of the larger electricity consumers, who apparently have to pay higher fees than consumers who use traditional energy sources. The data center industry is a global one, and we should welcome the industry to our country should they wish to come here. Of course, they must pay for their own use of electricity and potentially assist in further developments in our energy networks”, added Aagard.

“If we want to set targets when it comes to renewables, then we need more production of RE if the demand goes up. But data centers are not the problem here – it is rather our target which is not intelligent enough. We really need to focus on placing data centers where it is most effective to operate them. We should accept a lower RE share in Denmark, if it means that the overall global CO2 emissions went down”.

Another panellist, EVP Mark Augustenborg Ødum from Better Energy, pointed that he sees opportunities rather than threats in the development of the industry.

“Digitalisation, e-mobility and all these connected devices will create far more data in the future, and all of this will consume more energy. However, we are fortunate enough in Denmark to have a unique mix of energy sources, where we essentially just need to build out the energy networks to balance the different sources of energy. We do have a unique proposition to create a power hub in the Nordics, because we have many different forms of energy combined in one region, and this is our opportunity to set the standard”, said Mark Ødum.

CEO of European Energy, Knud Erik Andersen agreed with the sentiment: “We are not asking for any contributions, we would just like to make use of a developed infrastructure, which we can plug into. Data centers have been the frontrunners on PPA’s, and we are now seeing SME’s following this trend. The data center is responsible for this very development,” adds Andersen, whose company made the first PPA 4 years ago.

“PPA’s were previously driven by subsidies and guarantees from the government. Now it is the norm as well as the obvious choice for businesses without the need for political intervention. Our society needs to be reminded of this fact”.

The rest of the day offered many debates on how we can build and operate sustainable data centers. For example, panellist offered best-practices on how we can optimise the construction phase of a data center, where some shared what the “secret sauce” to success was. Knowledge-sharing and the industrialization of the construction phase with various technologies and techniques such as the modular approach, was discussed.

“For data centers it is important that our industry becomes a circular one, where we reuse materials and create more of a standardized approach with far fewer resources. Many of the data centers which we are building now, will need an upgrade in 5 years’ time,” said John Sommer, Director at the Danish construction firm MT Højgaard.

Other talks focused on the demand side and the opportunities following the new international connectivity cable, linking Denmark directly with the US, named the “Mermaid” cable.

“I would like to see the industry utilize the Nordics as their next step in their build-outs with the stable connectivity links we are able to offer, “said Peder Nærbø, the CEO from colocation provider Bulk Infrastructure.

Nærbø is currently building a new colocation site in Esbjerg, which will directly be connected to the subsea transatlantic cable. Bulk is also one of the partners in the cable system.

“In about 2-3 years’ time, we have brand new cables which will land in Esbjerg. We strongly believe that the Nordics will be the future engine room for the data center industry, with multiple connectivity points. We just need to enable this potential,” added Peder Nærbø.

Should one doubt the pace of the growth, Susanna Kass from Stanford University illustrated a thought-provoking scenario for smart cities around the world.

“The data center of the future is not designed for humans. In 2030 we will have reached around 45 megabytes with more than 10 million citizens. On average an individual has now more than seven devices connected to the internet, whilst the figure is much higher in Asia,” said Susanna Kass on the basis of UN’s World Urbanization Prospects.

“The number of machine users on the internet will surpass 50 billion devices in 2020 already, and this is just a few months away. So be humble with these developments, innovate, collaborate, hire more women and engage with students. And remember, you don’t know, what you don’t know…”.


Stærke bud på bæredygtige datacentre ved Data Centers Denmark-konference

Både oplægsholderne og debatten nåede vidt omkring med et glimt i øjet – lige fra ‘skurkeroller’ over ‘elektricitets-racisme’ og til ‘hemmelig sovs’. Men fokus var klart hele dagen igennem: Bæredygtighed kan sagtens forenes med datacentre, og der var masser af interessante bud på fremtiden.

Konferencen Data Centers Denmark i UN City, København, havde samlet en perlerække af oplægsholdere fra hele den internationale datacenterindustri og ikke færre end 285 tilmeldte deltagere. De fik en interessant dag med masser af input og networking, og fra deltagerne hørte vi kun rosende ord om arrangement og indhold – tak for det!

Konferencen var arrangeret af Datacenter Industrien i samarbejde med UNEP-DTU Partnership, og det overordnede tema var udvikling og drift af bæredygtige datacentre.
Et stort emne med mange facetter og mange udfordringer i en nutid og fremtid, som bliver stadig mere bevidst om den globale klimaudfordring.

“De store hyperscale centre er meget mere energieffektive, end de centre, de erstatter,” fastslog director John M. Christensen fra UNEP-DTU Partnership i sin velkomst.

“Men spørgsmålet er, om vi også kan arbejde med efterspørgselssiden. Min datter havde f.eks. aldrig tænkt over, om et tweet er CO2-fri, og hun fik helt dårlig samvittighed, da jeg fortalte om det. De unge må opdrages til at vide, at nogle af de her data altså ikke er gratis, og man kan gøre mange ting selv, men hvis man starter med at prædike til resten af verden, risikerer man at tabe.”

Men meget tyder på, at vi sagtens kan bruge data med grøn samvittighed – også i en fremtid, hvor forbruget stiger endnu mere.

“Vi har forpligtet os til at bruge 100 pct. vedvarende energi i 2020 – og det mål er en del af et større projekt med at reducere vores CO2-aftryk med 75 pct. i 2020,” lød det f.eks. fra Vince Van Son, director for Energy and Infrastructure hos Facebook.

For 2018 var målet for Facebook 50 pct. vedvarende energi, men man nåede op på 75 pct., så man er allerede godt på vej mod 100 pct. grøn energi.

“PPA’er (power purchase agreement) er et vigtigt værktøj for os, og ofte er de også afgørende for at få nye VE-projekter til at lykkes uden omkostninger for samfundet,” fortalte Vince Van Son.

For at illustrere væksten – og udfordringen med grøn energi – kunne han oplyse, at Facebook p.t. har flere datacentre under konstruktion end i drift! Men koncernens forbrug af sol- og vindenergi er også kraftigt stigende. Det gælder f.eks. den aftale, der fornylig er lavet om grøn strøm fra norske vindmøller til det nye datacenter i Odense.

“Vi finansierer produktion og tilslutning til nettet – og dermed støtter vi bl.a. Danmarks mål om mere grøn strøm fra havvindmøller. Og alle vore grønne investeringer er helt frivillige og uafhængige af offentlig støtte,” fastslog Facebook-direktøren.

“Virksomhedernes indkøb af vedvarende energi hjælper helt klart til lavere omkostninger for alle forbrugere. Og vores handlinger på området hjælper med at fjerne barrierer og inspirere andre,” påpegede Vince Van Son.

Dagens første paneldebat havde deltagelse af repræsentanter for både Microsoft og Google, og moderator Susanna Kass fra Stanford University spurgte bl.a. om deres tilgang til ansvarligt forbrug.

“Der sker noget markant i menneskeheden lige nu,  hvor vi gennemgår en ny industriel revolution, og i centrum for dét står datacentrene. Tænk på de gamle traditionelle fabrikker med røg ud af skorstenene – vi kan se, hvad der skete fortiden, og tænke bæredygtighed ind fra begyndelsen,” påpegede Sean James, Head of Energy Research hos Microsoft.

IT-giganten besluttede tilbage i 2007 at bygge sine egen datacentre. Større skala giver generelt mere energieffektiv drift, og Microsoft arbejder meget med udvikling – f.eks. vandkøling af serverne – og bruger selv PPA’er til indkøb af grøn strøm.

“Jeg er meget stolt af datacentrenes engagement i vedvarende energi. Ingen pålægger os at gøre det, men vi gør det frivilligt og meget dedikeret. Og alle, der tager en hvilken som helst beslutning hos os i Microsoft, kan straks se CO2-aftrykket i deres eget regnskab – hvad enten det handler om et byggeprojekt eller f.eks. en rejse til Europa,” fortalte Sean James.

Hos Google arbejder man lige så målrettet mod at nå op på 100 pct. vedvarende energi i sine datacentre.

“Vi skal jo også være repræsenteret i andre regioner, hvor der er varmere klima og ikke samme adgang til vedvarende energi. Så vi kan ikke garantere, at vores datacentre i de områder bruger grøn energi 24/7, men det er vores langsigtede mål,” understregede Alaa Salama, Program Manger for Data Center Sustainability hos Google.

“I Finland er vi oppe på omkring 99 pct. grøn energi, mens det f.eks. i Iowa er en anden historie. Vi kigger også på onsite el-produktion, og vi har f.eks. i Belgien 10.000 solpaneler på datacentrets grund, men det rækker desværre kun til tre pct. af forbruget. Vi fortsætter med at investere i vedvarende energi og ny udvikling – hvert site har sine specielle forhold og hver sin tilgang til at nå målet på 100 pct.”

Efter de indledende oplæg og debatter i plenum blev konferencen delt op i to spor for at give plads til de mange interessante temaer, bl.a. om datacentrenes rolle i fremtidens energisystemer.

I en af paneldebatterne pegede adm. direktør Lars Aagaard fra Dansk Energi f.eks. på, at datacentre kan bidrage i forhold til afbalanceringen af vedvarende energi.

“Kan I hjælpe os med at gøre forbruget mere fleksibelt, så vi kan investere mindre i net og backup. Hvis industrien viser, at den kan levere fleksibilitet, vil det være meget værd – også i forhold til lagring af energi, så vi kan fjerne noget af den kostbare efterspørgsel i spidsbelastning,” sagde Lars Aagaard, der også gav en stikpille til den politiske tilgang.

“Jeg kan ikke lide politikere, der lancerer ‘elektricitets-racisme’. Men det gør de for nogle af de store elforbrugere, som åbenbart skal betale en højere præmie, end storforbrugere der bruger traditionelle energikilder. Datacentre er en global industri, som bør komme til vores land, hvis de finder det attraktivt, og så skal de selvfølgelig betale for deres eget forbrug af elektricitet og evt. udbygning af nettet. Og når vi f.eks. har et mål om en vis VE-andel – så skal vi have højere produktion, når forbruget går op. Men problemet er ikke datacentrene
– det er, at målet ikke er særlig intelligent, og vi skulle virkelig gå efter at få drevet datacentrene, hvor det er mest effektivt! Jeg ville hellere acceptere en lavere VE-andel i Danmark, hvis den globale CO2 udledning gik ned,” fastslog Lars Aagaard.

En anden paneldeltager, executive vice president Mark Augustenborg Ødum fra Better Energy, ser også flere muligheder end trusler i udviklingen.

“Digitalisering, e-mobility m.m. vil kræve langt mere data i fremtiden, og det kræver alt sammen mere energi. Men vi har et unikt energimiks i Danmark, hvor vi bare har brug for mere infrastruktur til at balancere de forskellige energiformer. Vi har en unik mulighed for at skabe et power hub i Norden, fordi vi har de forskellige energiformer kombineret i én region, og vi har mulighed for at sætte en standard,” sagde Mark Ødum.

Adm. direktør Knud Erik Andersen fra European Energy – som blandt meget andet også er involveret i energiaftaler med datacentre – var på linje med ham.

“Vi beder ikke om tilskud – vi beder bare om en infrastruktur, vi kan koble os på. Datacentre har været frontløbere for PPA’er, og vi ser nu anden bølge, hvor mellemstore virksomheder følger efter. I hele udviklingen af det her, har datacentre været med til at skabe markedet,” fastslog Knud Erik Andersen, hvis virksomhed lavede den første PPA for fire år siden.

“Det var drevet af subsidier og garanteret af regeringen. Nu er det standard samt på kommercielle vilkår uden politisk involvering, og det bør samfundet også tænke på.”

Dagens program bød på en bred palette af interessante temaer indenfor bæredygtige datacentre – f.eks. også hvordan man designer, bygger og driver dem mere miljøvenligt. Her kom ‘den hemmelige sovs’ ind i debatten som et billede på, at der kan optimeres med mere videndelen og industrialisering i byggeprocessen, f.eks. med modultankegang.

“For datacentre er det vigtigt at lave det til en cirkulær industri, hvor vi f.eks. også genbruger materialer og laver mere standardisering med mindre forbrug af ressourcer. Mange af de datacentre, vi bygger nu, skal jo højst sandsynligt have en opgradering igen om fem-ti år,” påpegede director John Sommer fra MT Højgaard.

Andre oplæg handlede om efterspørgslen og mulighederne, der følger med de nye, internationale dataforbindelser.

“Jeg vil have datacenterindustrien til at bruge Norden som næste skridt i deres udbygning med de stabile forbindelser, vi kan tilbyde,” sagde f.eks. stifter og formand Peder Nærbø, Bulk Infrastructure.

Han har senest taget første spadestik til et nyt co-location datacenter i Esbjerg, som bl.a. bliver forbundet med det kommende atlantiske Havfrue-kabel, som Bulk også er partner i.

“Om to-tre år har vi tre spritnye kabler, der lander på stranden ved Esbjerg. Og vi mener, at Norden bliver fremtidens maskinrum for datacenterbranchen med adskillige forbindelser, så vi skal bare sørge for at åbne potentialet,” lød det fra Peder Nærbø.

Og skulle man være i tvivl om tempoet i væksten, kunne man bare lytte til Susanna Kass fra Stanford University. Hun gav et tankevækkende indblik i en meget nær fremtid for smart cities over hele kloden. “Fremtidens datacentre er ikke designet for nogen af os – de er slet ikke beregnet til mennesker. I 2030 vil vi have 43 megabyer på kloden med mere end 10 mio. indbyggere. Og i gennemsnit har folk allerede nu syv enheder, der er forbundet til nettet, mens tallet er  endnu højere i Asien,” fortalte Susanna Kass på basis af FN’s World Urbanization Prospects.

“Allerede i 2020 vil antallet af ‘machine users’ på nettet have passeret 50 mia. enheder – og det er jo altså om meget få måneder. Så vær ydmyg med udviklingen – you don’t know, what you don’t know…”