Is 2022 The Year Indian Data Centres Turned Green?

As early as 2010, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, in association with the CII, brought out the ‘Energy Efficiency Guidelines and Best Practices in Indian Data Centres’.
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In June 2022, rating agency ICRA announced that it expects the capacity of the  Indian data centres industry to exhibit a five-fold increase in the next five years. That is a 3900-4100 MW scale-up involving investments of about Rs 1.2 lakh crore. This projection is driven by the growth trajectory of the digital economy. 

According to Meity, the size of the digital economy in India is estimated to grow to a staggering $1 trillion by 2025, from $200 billion in 2017-18.  The Indian Data Centre market has witnessed tremendous growth in the past decade, led by an explosion of data through smartphones, social networking sites, e-commerce and other digital initiatives like digital education, health and banking. 

While the growth prospects hold the promise of India becoming a data centre hub, a crucial question is whether these data centres can be sustainable enough?

Recent global initiatives towards sustainable data centres

Across the globe, countries and companies are taking initiatives to ensure sustainability of their data centres. In association with Plug, a pioneer in building end-to-end green hydrogen ecosystems, Microsoft  recently tested a hydrogen fuel cell system powerful enough to replace a traditional diesel-powered backup generator at a large data centre. After successfully completing prototype testing, Plug is now focused on rolling out an optimised commercial version of high-power stationary fuel cell systems that Microsoft plans to install in one of its research data centres.

Icelandic data centres, known for running on sustainable energy – especially a mix of geothermal and hydroelectric energy – may soon become a hub for companies willing to minimise their carbon footprint while using high-performance computing. Installation work for Iris, Iceland’s fourth submarine cable that connects southwest of Iceland to Ballyloughane Strand in Galway (Ireland), has already begun. The work is expected to be completed by year-end. 

Iris submarine cable system

Nordic data centres are known for being well-suited for HPC applications, such as machine learning, scientific computing, protein folding and modelling of financial markets. Iris will provide Iceland direct links with the east coast of the USA reducing the latency between the two regions. Interestingly, the eastern coast of the US accounts for a lot of demand for HPC. Thus, Icelandic data centres hold sufficient potential when it comes to green IT. 

In Singapore, Schneider Electric has come up with a clear framework for greener data centres that includes implementing efficient data centre designs, leveraging digital solutions to boost efficiency of operations, incorporating renewable energy options and creating net-zero supply chains.

India Inc commits to greening data centres

The above instances show the strong commitment of nations and business organisations towards sustainability. India, too, is committed towards sustainability and arresting climate change. Recently, the Union Cabinet approved India’s new emission pledges and India Inc. has been making several efforts with respect to greening data centres as well. 

As early as 2010, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, in association with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII),  brought out the ‘Energy Efficiency Guidelines and Best Practices in Indian Data Centres’.

In the draft Data Centre Policy, MEITY has encouraged the use of renewable energy like solar and wind power for data centres by collaborating with the ministry of power on their various green and sustainable energy initiatives. The draft policy also mentions adopting established global standards for data centres and data centre parks. 

In 2015, CII and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory came up with Data Center Energy Efficiency Standards in India based on findings from global practices. Not only at the policy level, organisations have taken measures at their own levels to ensure greener data centres. 

To ensure cleaner power availability,  Chennai-based ICT solutions provider Sify has entered into a power purchase agreement with Vibrant Energy Holdings to source 231 MW of solar and wind energy to power its hyperscale data centres. 

Indore-based RackBank Data Centers Pvt. Ltd. is aggressively pursuing green initiatives to ensure sustainability. RackBank’s Carbon Neutrality wing is at the forefront of its green initiatives. It ensures green server deployment by planting one sapling for onboarding each client. It sources renewable energy for power-hungry IT loads, for example, solar-powered green grids and server virtualisation to maximise productivity. 

NTT, a global technology services company has been leading the way toward using clean energy in data centre operations. It has built a solar power plant in Solapur, Maharashtra and a wind and solar energy plant in Karnataka.

In 2021, Bharati Airtel commissioned a 14 MW captive solar power plant in Uttar Pradesh to meet the energy requirements of its core and edge data centres in the state. 

CtrlS Hyperscale Data Centre at Mumbai

Talking about India Inc.’s efforts toward green data centres, how can one forget Sridhar Pinnapureddy, unquestionably the Green Man of the Indian data centre business? Pinnapureddy is the founder and CMD of CtrlS Datacenters and spearheads the most number of Rated-4 hyperscale green data centres certified by USGBC in India. He led the construction of the first LEED Platinum-certified green data centre in the world and over 200 more innovations, including 80 in sustainability and energy efficiency. Under Sridhar’s leadership, CtrlS has become the world’s first LEED Platinum v4 O+M Green Data Center.

What we think

India Inc’s sustainability efforts are undoubtedly admirable. However, how well these initiatives have fared is a matter of concern. Given most of these initiatives are new, there hasn’t been any detailed study to see if carbon consumption from Indian data centres has reduced at all post such initiatives. Also, how prompt organisations are in implementing and ensuring full functionality of renewable energy-powered data centres remains to be seen. Take the case of Reliance Jio’s solar-powered data centre in Uttar Pradesh. In 2021, the news of Jio planning to build such a data centre was doing the rounds, but there hasn’t been any major update related to it of late.

BEE needs to revise the energy efficiency guidelines for data centres since the current standards are more than a decade old. Further, organisations committing to green data centres should periodically report the progress made. This will enable others to learn from best practices and also incumbents to improve further. 

Notwithstanding the work to be done, being at the emerging stage, the data centre industry in India is much more flexible to pivot to green technologies compared to mature data centre markets. 

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Zinnia Banerjee
Zinnia loves writing and it is this love that has brought her to the field of tech journalism.

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