Sustainable data centers – how does it work?

It is now impossible to imagine our everyday lives without data centers, as they have long since established themselves as the new infrastructure basis for technical progress. So it’s safe to assume that more and more data centers will be built in the future.

The pandemic in particular has driven this development even more than it already was. For example, more people than ever before had to work from home, and the majority of students also had to follow classes from home.

Progress that will have a major impact on the economy and society, and logically will also bring problems. Far less public attention is paid to the requirements necessary for the operation of such facilities.

For 2020, the Borderstep Institute estimated in a study that the total consumption of all data centers will exceed 16 terawatt hours – a growth of one terawatt hour compared to 2019, despite the pandemic and the economic crisis.

“The demand for computing power in the centers has increased tenfold since 2010,” says researcher Ralph Hintemann of the Borderstep Institute for Innovation and Sustainability in Berlin. Although the IT technology used has become significantly more efficient, the growing demand for computing power is leading to significantly higher energy requirements overall. This is now 60 percent larger than it was in 2010. The main factor is power consumption, especially for the servers and the cooling systems.”

So this energy consumption begs the question – how sustainable are our data centers, really?

How can sustainability be implemented in data centers?

When planning and implementing a data center, there are numerous factors that favor environmentally friendly operation and ultimately ensure an optimized carbon footprint.

The right location

Already the choice of the location plays a major role. The energy infrastructure and climatic conditions have a significant impact on the extent to which, for example, a supply of green electricity is guaranteed directly from the utilities or outside air can be used for cooling.

Sustainable materials

Furthermore, sustainable materials should be used when building data centers. For example, one can focus on raw material sourcing and use building materials that have a long service life.

In addition, attention should be paid to optimal facade insulation so that even hot summer temperatures leave the data center cold. One solution is to insulate the outer shell while still allowing the necessary air exchange so that the cooling technology inside can work at its best.

Sustainable power sources

Probably the most obvious approach to saving on energy costs is to turn to alternative and sustainable sources of electricity. One example of this is solar energy.

The right cooling technology

The biggest energy guzzler in many older data centers is often the cooling technology. The huge number of hard disks in operation generates immense waste heat, which in turn can be put to practical use – assuming intelligent data technology.

For example, in Stockholm, waste heat is already benefiting the district heating network, and so thousands of homes can be heated.

There are also data centers where water is allowed into the vicinity of the electronics. Water absorbs heat much better than air. For this purpose, computer cabinets, racks, are stacked in high shelves. At the back pipes run in doors made of metal. Softened water flows in a closed circuit in these heat exchangers.

SSD instead of HDD

The high power consumption of data centers is no coincidence. There are thousands of fixed workstations in data centers that are constantly in operation. Often, these are old, classic HDDs that have been around for years. An alternative to the HDD? The SSD.

The HDD not only tends to be more susceptible to wear due to its moving parts and thus also consumes a bit more energy – SSDs not infrequently work off ten times the computing power in the same amount of time and can switch to an energy storage mode almost without a second thought after the read or write process is completed. The replacement of HDDs with SSDs should therefore be considered in all usage scenarios that go beyond the pure storage and archiving of data


The climate crisis affects us all. Not only private individuals, but also companies dealing with data technology and electrical installations. It is no longer just a matter of responding to legal requirements for CO2 reduction, but of actively assuming social and corporate responsibility and making a difference. Sustainable data centers are part of that.