O2 outlines plans to slash data centre emissions

Telecommunications giant O2 is set to cut emissions from its data centres by more than half a million kilograms within a year, after investing in natural cooling technologies and energy efficiency.

O2 outlines plans to slash data centre emissions

Image: O2

In what it has described as a “radical overhaul”, the firm has invested in innovative energy-efficient cooling equipment to regulate the temperature of data centres and core network sites. These will replace traditional electric-powered air conditioning and transitional gas-based refrigeration.

The new equipment will use natural cold air outside of locations to cool inside. It is being paired with energy management software from EkkoSense, which uses smart sensors fitted to data centre equipment to monitor exactly how much cooling each site needs at any one time and how the delivery of this cooling can be optimised for energy efficiency.

O2 estimates that each site with the new technology will consume 15-20% less energy every year. To date, around 70% of the firm’s sites have received the upgrade. Once all sites receive the technology, O2 forecasts, CO2e savings of more than 678,000 kilograms will be delivered within a 12-month period.

The move comes after O2 shifted all sites where it manages energy bills directly to 100% renewable electricity. This covers some 70% of its estate. Remaining Scope 2 (power-related) emissions are related to sites where other organisations, such as landlords, manage bills for electricity, and related to fossil-based heating and cooling.

O2 has also delivered an 82% improvement in energy efficiency across the network since 2015. However, it claims that the focus on data centres is necessary in light of the net-zero transition and the UK’s growing demand for 4G and 5G. Total peak hour data traffic on the O2 network this April and May was some 55% higher year-on-year.

 “Our number one priority is keeping customers connected, but that cannot be at the expense of the environment,” O2’s head of corporate responsibility and sustainability Tracey Herald said. “Data centre cooling is a great example: the more data we use, the hotter the centres can become. Historically networks have relied on air con, but the UK has plenty of fresh, cold air that does the same job – so we’re getting rid of old kit and using energy in a smarter way.”

Up to data

In 2016, it was reported that the world’s data centres used more than Britain’s total annual electricity consumption – 416.2TWh, significantly higher than the UK’s 300TWh. This was equivalent to 3% of global electricity demand and, with the grid mix at the time taken into account, around 2% of annual global emissions.

An increasingly digital world means more data centre use. By some estimates, data centres could be accountable for 3.2% of global annual emissions in 2025 – a similar proportion to aviation – and the proportion could surpass 14% by 2040. This is, of course, if businesses managing data centres fail to scale energy-efficient and low-carbon solutions.

While O2 is using natural cool air, other approaches include submerging data centres to use natural cool water (piloted by Microsoft); adding data centres to cool caves or using excess heat from data centres in district heating networks that serve other buildings (see Facebook’s trial).

Join the conversation at edie’s Countdown to COP26

Readers are encouraged to attend edie’s flagship Countdown to COP26 event, which is uniting hundreds of business leaders in preparation for the UN conference and has O2 as a headline partner. 

The virtual event is taking place on Thursday 20 May, with the aim of informing and inspiring businesses to seize the opportunity of the crucial UN climate talks which are being held in Glasgow this November.

Keynote speakers include The UK Cabinet Office’s director of partnerships and engagement Matt Toombs,  WBCSD director Claire O’Neill and O2’s head of corporate responsibility and sustainability Tracey Herald. So far, more than 250 business and climate leaders have registered to attend. 

For a full agenda, and to register, click here. 

Sarah George

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