Driving a Sustainable Data
Centre Future in Singapore’s Digital Economy
Did you know that streaming a Netflix movie or keying a Google search leaves a carbon footprint?
When we think of the Internet, we tend to think of digital networks, instead of the physical data centres in North Virginia or Iceland, using a great deal of land and energy.
A data centre is part of the backbone, physical infrastructure of the network environment that encompasses cables, routers, computing systems, and various electrical parts. It powers cloud technologies, hosts 5G networks, or connects the Internet of Things (IoT), among other applications.
With a growing demand for digital services, the data sector is becoming increasingly energy-intensive, raising the question: How can we ensure data centres meet our climate goals?
We recently invited the following industry leaders to discuss the topic of sustainability in Singapore’s data centres:
- Mr Ashton Soh, Co-Chair, Data Centre Committee, SGTech
- Ms Genevieve Ding, Head of Public Policy, SG & ASEAN Strategic Projects, AWS
- Dr Fraser Thompson, Principal, AlphaBeta
- Mr Mark Smith, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Digital Realty
- Ms Yee May Leong, Managing Director, South Asia, Equinix
- Mr Kai Goh, Head M&A and Strategic Initiatives, Keppel Data Centres
- Mr Ken Haig, Head of Energy & Sustainability Policy, Asia Pacific & Japan, AWS
Why do we need local data centres?
The data centre industry currently adds over 2 billion to Singapore’s economy and enables over 1.6 million jobs, according to AlphaBeta’s 2022 analysis.
Four benefits of Singapore-based data centres include:
- Reducing business costs and supporting innovation through low latency services
- Enhancing disaster resiliency
- Lowering geopolitical risks and data localisation requirements in other countries
- Encouraging multi-national corporations to establish regional headquarters in Singapore
With an estimated four-fold increase in customers’ use of data services by 2030, implementing high regulatory standards is key to ensuring long-term sustainable growth.
“Green Growth Opportunity”
The “green growth” scenario describes a substantial expansion of data centres with sustained utilisation rates comparable to hyperscale cloud providers, energy-efficient systems, and 100% renewable energy sources.
Currently, Singapore is on the right track to green growth with a high processing capacity in a relatively small number of data centres.
According to the Energy 2050 Committee report, Singapore’s power sector targets net-zero emissions by 2050 in line with global climate targets. The country contributes to around 0.11% of global carbon emissions with 40% of that attributable to the power industry.
Singapore has implemented policy regulations such as raising the carbon tax (from S$5 to S$50-80 per tonne by 2030) and increasing investments in green projects and low-carbon technologies to meet emission targets.
Moving forward, adhering to international best practices can help operators make the transition to eco-friendly facilities. The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact in Europe defines five key areas of climate-neutral data centres:
- Energy efficiency: reducing power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratios by using carbon fuels more efficiently
- Clean energy: using renewable or carbon-free energy like geothermal and hydropower sources
- Water efficiency: setting an annual target to improve Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) through specific measures such as reclaiming non-portable water
- Circular energy: exploring how heat can be reused in nearby systems to optimise a waste-to-energy cycle
- Circular economy: ensuring that used resources are suitable for reuse, repair, or recycling
Sustainability and Technology
Increased investment in energy and digital technologies can help accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources and smart data centres.
Singapore faces unique challenges such as geographical constraints that limit access to renewable energies; leveraging innovative technological solutions is key to overcoming these constraints.
For example, the Keppel Data Centre developed a floating data centre park in Singapore with advanced systems to harness seawater as an alternative cooling solution.
Other decarbonisation technologies such as liquid chip-based cooling, closed-loop water systems, or green hydrogen, also present unique opportunities for sustainable growth.
Raising Climate Awareness
Climate change is the cause of widespread and irreversible damage to the environment. Raising awareness of how our actions connect to climate problems is the first step towards a sustainable future.
As consumers, we can start by using less and making demands for more responsible production and practices from the businesses we support.
For corporations, industry players and policymakers, providing transparency and taking accountability for the climate issue is critical. Carbon dioxide emission is only one part of the industry’s problem, with coal ash leaks, lithium mining in battery production, burning trees as “renewable energy”, or toxic electronic waste contributing to the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis.
Through systemic and comprehensive change, Singapore can ensure the sustainable growth of data centres to power a digital-first economy.
Join the SGTech Data Centre Committee
SGTech's Data Centre Committee brings together the members of Singapore's data centre ecosystem to take on opportunities and challenges specific to the industry. The members include the data centre operators and service providers, data centre equipment vendors, solution providers and consultants, among others.
Please contact [email protected] if you’d like to find out more about the committee.
Published May 2022