Will the Withdrawal from the Paris Accords Affect how U.S. Data Centers Operate?

05 Sep 2017

As most of us know, the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The agreement aims to reduce the risks and impacts of climate change, in part by participating countries’ commitment to low greenhouse gas emissions, and climate-resilient development. While the Trump administration views the Paris Agreement as a bad idea, evidence suggests that U.S. state and local governments, as well as U.S. businesses, have a different view.

A large and growing number of “non-national” actors, including states, cities, and businesses, are speaking out about the decision - even reaffirming their commitments to the accord. For example, city mayors continue to reaffirm commitment. Pittsburgh, where air pollution was a serious daily problem just 50 years ago but today has been largely eradicated, has reaffirmed. Technology companies are also reaffirming commitment.  Several continue to issue Green Bonds. Apple issued a bond worth $1 Billion, while other tech industry leaders are vocal about the importance of slowing the advance of climate change. Some believe that, through efforts of these non-national actors alone, the U.S. can maintain its commitments made under the Obama administration.

Indeed, U.S. businesses are now lining up to change course on climate change initiatives, and data centers are no exception. Data centers are a large industrial consumer of energy in the US and abroad.  Operational costs are driven by energy consumption; good stewardship of energy use is good for business. 

Because data centers are such huge consumers of energy in the States, the industry finds itself in the crosshairs of those organizations promoting environmental sustainability. We live in a digital society and a digital economy. As our economy grows, both data and data processing will grow, as well.  This is proven by exponential growth in data content and internet traffic.  Regardless of how efficient a data center becomes, net result is the application of more energy, not less, over the long haul.

U.S. data centers may sometimes serve a corporate sustainability mission, but more often are motivated by financial concerns. Operational cost savings is a universal factor. Because energy costs are a primary component of data center operational expenses, energy efficiency improvement will continue to be a goal, regardless of our withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Data centers in the U.S. will continue to prioritize energy efficiency due to the many financial rewards of energy efficiency improvements.

U.S. data centers are seldom under regulatory pressures to “green up,” but they clearly recognize that a reduced PUE equates to reduced operational expense. They’ve discovered that many energy efficiency actions demonstrate reasonably short payback periods -- with a clear path to energy cost savings. In addition to financial motivations, there are programs in place for “100% Green Networks,” sustainable electronic component recycling, “carbon per click” reduction, and so on. These introduce the notion of how sustainability practices apply to what goes on inside a data center, as well as how the energy consumed by a data center is sourced.

In contrast to the U.S., data center operators in Europe have long been under pressure to demonstrate steps toward further energy efficiency, carbon reduction, and sustainability. Voluntary and regulatory programs for carbon reduction and energy efficiency improvement have been in place for years. Some of these are country-specific, while others are EU-wide. U.S.-based companies that wish to build a European data center presence may find it challenging to negotiate this constantly shifting landscape of regulations, directives, and policies.

U.S. companies shopping for data center services in Europe are often surprised by some unexpected complexities.  For example, there is not a single pan-European energy provider. In addition, energy markets are different from country to country, and both regulations and energy sources vary. Some markets are dominated by hydropower, others by natural gas, and still others by nuclear. How can a business be sure its IT equipment is powered by green energy?

Companies should insist that a provider demonstrate 100 percent green energy to support multi-country deployments in Europe. Thought-leading data center operators will be able to demonstrate innovative application of green technology as a differentiator. One such application uses 100 percent green energy, and operates innovative cooling techniques such as seawater assisted cooling, and ground water cooling.

The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will have little effect on the long-term strategy for most businesses. We are becoming a more global society as businesses continue to expand their services across international borders. Forward-thinking U.S. data center managers know that adoption of sustainable practices is necessary to keep pace with the global community – not only to adhere to international laws, but because green technology is becoming less costly and more efficient. Ultimately, businesses looking to expand abroad will make a smoother transition by employing an I.T. operations strategy built on sustainable practices.


Bob Landstrom is Director of Product Management at Interxion. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Missouri, and a Master degree in IS Security Management from Villanova University. He has a US patent for an arithmetic data error detection and correction code, and is a frequent conference speaker in the data center industry, and has authored numerous white papers and publications. Bob teaches data center and IS Security topics for industry professional organizations, the US Department of Energy, and is an adjunct professor at a university in the US.

Interxion | http://www.interxion.com

Volume: 2017 September/October