Race To Net Zero: Sustainability as a competitive advantage - MIDA | Malaysian Investment Development Authority
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Race To Net Zero: Sustainability as a competitive advantage

Race To Net Zero: Sustainability as a competitive advantage

09 Oct 2023

As Malaysia embraces the digital era, its strategic location and supportive government policies make it a prime choice for the establishment of data centres.

However, with data centres consuming up to 2% of the world’s energy, there is an urgent need to address their power consumption to ensure sustainable operations. Data centre owners and operators must focus on energy efficiency and sustainability to protect their margins and maintain productivity during potential economic downturns.

Digital Edge spoke to Eugene Quah, country general manager for Malaysia at Schneider Electric, about the company’s initiative to bring sustainable and green data centres to Malaysia.

The ever-rising need for energy prompts the need for green data centres, apart from the pressure from stakeholders to transition into more sustainable practices, says Quah.

“Green data centres have been established years ago in some other countries around the globe. They have now become the standard for how a data centre should be designed and operated. Our neighbouring countries, such as Singapore, have started to impose green data centre standards, a framework to systematically enhance energy efficiency, cut energy consumption and measure carbon footprints within data centres.

“These green data standards look at power usage effectiveness that measures the annual energy used by data centres over the annual energy used by IT equipment. For instance, if one is building a 10MW data centre, they need to actually acquire 15MW to 16MW to power up the data centre, that consists of the data centre, the uninterrupted power supply (UPS) system, the server and all the auxiliary machinery.

“Now, some of the standards [such as Singapore’s Data Centre Carbon Footprint Assessment programme] are about 1.3, which means the data centres [in Singapore] must adhere to 1.3 times the energy to power 10MW data centres. However, in Malaysia, data centres operate with a rough estimation of 1.57 or 1.6 times the energy to power 10MW data centres.”

Megatrends driving need for green data centres

During an internal meeting about eight years ago, Schneider Electric discussed and predicted some megatrends that will likely occur between 2020 and 2025 that will hasten the push for green data centres. The trends identified were greater rural-to-urban population migration, an increase in manufacturing demands and a burgeoning digital realm.

“The urban population is increasing, with more than 75% of Malaysians living in the city. Globally, we can see similar migratory trends have been happening with 56.9% of the world’s population living in cities. Now, what does that mean for us at Schneider Electric? When there are more people living in cities, the demand for internet usage and data operations is going to increase even more.

“With more people coming into the city, there is a need for more of everything, from food and clothing to household items and building materials.

“When the cities have more people, there is a need for internet connections, both for personal use and for work. More connections lead to more data centres. We have also seen an increase in digital connectivity in the post-Covid-19 pandemic workforce,” he says.

Apart from the megatrends, Quah says, there is a lot of pressure from various stakeholders in relation to climate change and the push for sustainability.

“In addressing climate change and the efforts to decarbonise, Schneider Electric is thinking of having a decentralised energy system for our green data centres. Decarbonising power generation usage is not something that can be fixed immediately. Our approach to introducing renewable energy into our data centres’ energy mix is a hybrid combination of fossil fuels and renewable energy such as solar energy.

“Looking at Schneider Electric’s business portfolio, we have a big role to play — we are in the ecosystem of the entire value chain, from transformers, switchgear, circuit breakers, all the way to the switches. The business of energy management relates to how energy can be used more efficiently by users through improving productivity.

“In the area of sustainability and digitalisation, it is not a battle that we can fight alone. We have to gather the power of everyone into our whole ecosystem of partners so that the awareness of greening this market can be up to speed,” says Quah.

AI to ‘greenify’ data centres

The ideal way to make data centres more sustainable is to power them entirely with renewable energy. However, Quah believes that it will be a while before that becomes a reality.

This is why, apart from operating green data centres with solar energy and an electrical grid, Schneider Electric is also using in-house technology solutions to help reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.

“Tech solutions amped up by the rapid adoption of digitalisation can help in managing or measuring energy consumption within data centres. Knowing exactly when the peak demand and low demand of energy can improve the energy usage significantly.

“The data centres’ UPS system — a battery backup that supplies power to provide enough time to properly power down equipment when there is a failure in utility power — is a critical power source and cannot be interrupted. In a day, there will be different [levels of] power demand. The demand from 8am to 12pm is different from 12pm to 5pm.

“The cooling system and every other operating component cannot be running in an equal pattern, taking up equal amounts of energy despite fluctuations in energy demand. So, the power source for green data centres must adjust to the energy demand and the usage of the facilities,” says Quah.

Some older infrastructure systems rely on humans performing manual and visual inspections of equipment to keep them running smoothly. Staff walk around, look at displays, take periodic measurements with handheld sensors and look for any visible damage or deterioration.

This approach has the potential for human error and is also limited in its scope to find indicators of future problems since it is periodic and the devices may only display limited information.

Lack of real-time visibility through monitoring makes it difficult to maximise the health, safety and longevity of the system. Having these systems digitalised and connected adds much more insightful information to not only help improve the reliability of the systems but also improve their sustainability. Apart from that, by utilising digitalisation and real-time sensors, energy usage within the facilities is able to improve.

“When temperature-sensitive sensors detect that the temperature is cooler than necessary, it can automatically reduce one cooling component. However, instead of immediately shutting down, the artificial intelligence element in the sensors is able to simulate whether or not the decision to shut down a cooling component will affect other systems’ operations. Within the next few minutes, if it is not cool enough, the cooling component will be switched on again.

“All of these are powered by Schneider Electric’s Internet of Things-enabled EcoStruxure across different domains across different segments such as homes, buildings, data centres, iInfrastructure and industries.

“Now with EcoStruxure, a system of predictive maintenance means end users are able to forecast component failures. Users are now able to increase uptime and reduce operational and maintenance costs, compared to the additional cost that users have to pay after the component has already broken down,” adds Quah.

Real-time monitoring and predictive analytics increase the likelihood of identifying problems before they become critical. Identifying and deploying corrective measures for these problems can prolong the system’s life and improve reliability. A longer useful life delays disposing of old systems and manufacturing new ones, both of which have an environmental impact on the lifecycle of the data centre.

Source: The Edge Malaysia