Get your carbon footprint for your datacenter

Some interesting figures are made available by the International Energy Agency. In the lead-up to the UN climate negotiations in Doha, the latest information on the level and growth of CO₂ emissions, their source and geographic distribution will be essential to lay the foundation for a global agreement. To provide input to and support for the UN process the IEA is making available the “Highlights” version of CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion.

One of the interesting tables that came available is the CO2 emissions per kWh electricity generation. It isn’t easy to find consistent and complete time series. A lot of the data that can be found is using different definitions and/or different time periods what makes it difficult to aggregate these figures. But now time series for the period 1990 – 2010 are available.

I made a selection for the EU countries and added the United States to make some comparisons. As you can see in table 1 (double click to get a better look) there is a steady decrease of CO2/kwH. On average there was a reduction of 37% in the EU. The Baltics with Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania shows a sharp increase. The same can be said for Sweden but Sweden had already a very low CO2/kwH ratio.


kgCO2/kwH figures for the EU countries and the U.S.

The table also shows a remarkable difference between EU and the United States. In the period 1990 – 2010 the U.S. succeeded to reduce the CO2/kwH with only 10% whereas the EU countries reduced the CO2/kwH in the same period with 37%.

Zooming in on the countries with Tier 1 data center markets United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany and France (with the DC hubs London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris) we see a CO2/kwH reduction of 32%, 31.6%, 24.1% and 24.8%.
The Netherlands and Germany follows more or less the trend of the average EU decrease. Whereas the trend of the UK is much bumpier. From 1999 till 2006 the CO2/kwH ratio was even increasing but although the trend is again going down it still didn’t pass the all time low in 1999. And France with its large share in nuclear generated electricity has a more or less steady trend after an initial reduction in the beginning of the nineties.

kgCO2/kwH trends

If we take a look at the United States we see that already in 1993 the average CO2/kwH of the EU countries was lower than that of the US. And 1995 was the year that the CO2/kwH of all the four countries with the European Tier-1 datacenter markets went below the CO2/kwH of the United States.


Our friends from Greenqloud were missing a country. Sorry guys no EU member yet  ;)) but  nevertheless  here are the figures of Iceland:


Iceland CO2kwH Data

See also: Power markets, Power prices and Data Centres in Europe

GreenQloud: moving Universities and Reseach data from the Netherlands to Iceland

Last week SURFnet, the largest National Research and Education Network (NREN) in the Netherlands, announced it will transfer part of its services to GreenQloud, a green cloud computing company from Iceland.

According to SURFnet one of the import features of GreenQloud is that they were willing to make specific changes;  “An important feature is to integrate the authentication framework of the universities (often exposed via SAML, in the Netherlands via SURFfederatie) with the IaaS cloud, in order to do automatic account provisioning”.

Legislation was also a topic that was included in the assessment. According to Dutch law, data needs to stay inside the European Economical Area (EEA). This makes it difficult to use cloud providers that have base outside the EEA, like the US, even though they run in Europe. But Iceland is part of European Economic Area so there are no data legislation issues.

For SURFnet another interesting aspect in using remote IaaS-clouds is the network layer. Research networks are very well connected and via other research networks (inter domain networking) connection can be made to GreenQloud in Iceland via Netherlight, NORDUnet and RHnet. This gives researchers the opportunity to start their machines in Iceland while they’re connected in an institution VLAN and are protected by the institution firewall.

The services of GreenQloud are powered by 100% renewable energy resources. With the transfer of services to GreenQloud,  SURFnet thinks to reduce CO2 emission with 50 ton /year.

GreenQloud, only recently  announced the launch of two clean IaaS cloud solutions, Compute Qloud™ and Storage Qloud™, at DEMO Fall 2012. GreenQloud was founded in 2010 and is privately funded. Verne Global serves as the primary data center facility for GreenQloud, with Thor DC (Advania) serving as an additional location.

See also: Iceland green data center initiatives

New development: merging carbon markets

Australia and the EU agreed to link their carbon trading schemes by 2018. Businesses in Australia will be able to use EU allowances to cover up to 50 percent of Australian liabilities from July 2015. Full two-way trade will not commence until 2018.

Australia’s carbon price, which began in July as a fixed 18.99 euro/ton tax, will move to an emissions trading scheme in 2015. Originally, the scheme was designed with a 12.39 euro/ton floor price, to take effect from 2015 but now Australia will  scrap its planned carbon floor price when its emissions trading scheme starts in July 2015.

Linking the Australian and EU systems reaffirms that carbon markets are the prime vehicle for tackling climate change and the most efficient means of achieving missions reduction,” said Greg Combet, Australia minister for climate change and energy efficiency. (joint press release)

Neighbouring New Zealand also has an emissions trading scheme, and talks about linking with New Zealand’s scheme are taking place.

The EU is opening talks with South Korea, China and the state of California, where carbon markets are in various states of development, about possible forms of collaboration.

European Union Carbon price and data centers

Carbon based energy can lead to considerable extra costs for a data center in the European Union. Since 2005 the carbon price in the EU has moved between the 32.85 and 5.99 euro a ton. Currently there is much uncertainty about the future of the carbon price in the EU.

To enforce the right actions to combat climate change the EU has chosen for ‘cap and trade’. With this market-based approach to control pollution there is a limit (cap) on the total amount of gases that can be emitted by companies in the system. Within this cap, companies receive emission allowances, which they can sell to or buy from one another as needed.

The European Union Emission Trading Scheme (or EU ETS) is the largest multi-national, greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in the world. In 2005, the European Union started the EU Emission Trading System (EU ETS) and now it covers nearly 50% of all European Union CO2 emissions.

The lower limit for the EU ETS is set at 20MWthermal, but many data centers have their own back-up fossil fuel power supply. For the bigger data centers these direct CO2 emitters are large enough to be included in the EU ETS in their own right.

Under the scheme, all installations regardless of whether they are used on a continuous basis or for standby are obliged to be registered and permitted. For the major part of carbon emissions associated with data centers comes from their direct electricity usage. Only the intermittent emissions from their own on-site, fossil fuelled generators are covered by the EU ETS.

Since the start in 2005, the EU carbon market has experienced a large degree of volatility. One of the reasons is that “The EU ETS has a growing surplus of allowances built up over the last few years,” as said by Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for Climate Action. The recent economic downturn has added to that and pushed prices to record lows, raising questions about the effectiveness of the program.

With a EU Allowance top price of 32.85 euro, and a price of just below 17 euro in 2011 there was an all-time low of 5.99 euro in the beginning of April 2012. They allowances are currently trading at around €7.00

To remedy the problem at least temporarily, the European Commission put forward a proposal on July 25: to cut the number of permits auctioned between 2013 and 2015 and sell them later. An action known as backloading. There are no firm proposals in the plans on how many allowances should be withdrawn from sale, but the commission’s own analysis mentions 400 million, 900 million or 1.2 billion of them.

It seems that there are still discussions ongoing; about the issue that changing the auctioning schedule could hurt companies, already under strain due to the economic crisis or the impact on countries with an carbon based energy production (such as Poland).

The disagreement has meant that the commission will now only publish specific figures as well as long term structural changes to the ETS system after the summer recess.

Data Center stakeholders should closely watch the current carbon price developments. More information on data centers and carbon and power prices can be found in the report Power market, power prices and data centres in Europe.


Getting some remarks that data centers fall outside the ETS scheme.

So let me clarify.

A lot of people are not aware  that for the bigger data centers the backup power generators are large enough to be included in the EU ETS in their own right.  With this I didnt stated that this generators are currently part of the EU ETS. But there is a chance that it will be a part of EU ET because things are not very clear. A quote from The Green Grid on this, in whitepaper #25:

“There is some discussion on whether the standby generators would qualify a Data Centre for inclusion in the scheme. Currently guidance on this is unclear would and operators should determine if their standby generators would mean inclusion into the scheme. Data Centres with generator capacity of >6MW may be seen as 20MW (Thermal) potential power generation capacity using fossil fuels.”


Data centers beware of the Power Grid

As we all know the quality and availability of the data center stands or falls with the quality and availability of the power delivered by the power grid to the data center. But the current power grid is under pressure. Although suitable for the last century, the current power grid cannot handle the new demands.

The EU has developed an ambitious energy policy scheme, also known as ‘20-20-20’, that aims at:

  • 20% reduction of energy usage,
  • 20% share renewable energy and a
  • 20% reduction on greenhouse gas emission in 2020

This is the political and legislative framework that shapes the electricity market in Europe.

The EU 20-20-20 goals in combination with the intermittent nature of the renewable energy sources, and the aging power plant fleet and power grid of the EU makes it necessary to update the current power grid to a new and smart power grid. Therefore the power and utility sector will require a substantial amount of investment during the next 15 years to make this transformation possible.

A good example of this are the recent developments in Germany. Following the accident in Fukushima, Germany’s government announced in 2011 that it would phase out all nuclear power plants by 2022. That is about 23% of their power production capacity. At the same time, in 2011, there where periods that the German windmills generated so much power that power generators were paying consumers to buy their electricity for a short time otherwise they had to shut off base load power plants. This phenomenon is known as ‘negative electricity prices’. In 2012 the German solar power plants even produced a world record with 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour, this met with nearly 50 percent of the nation’s electricity needs. This flood of renewable energy influence the profitability of the traditional power plants and also put pressure on the necessary investments in the adaption and replacement of an aging conventional power plant fleet.

Several stakeholders of the power supply chain; power plant owners, transmission system operators and large customers (enterprises) have expressed their worries about recent developments and the increasing risk of unstable power supply.

Recently the four German transmission system operators (TSOs) 50Hertz, Amprion, TenneT TSO,  and TransnetBW  published for the first time a report about the transformation of the current power grid to a new smart power grid. Using different development scenarios this plan, NEP 2012, points to the new needs for electricity transmission between the start and end points in the power grid. The current draft of the network development plan, NEP 2012, is open for public consultation until 10 July 2012.

According to this report the most important factors that shape the future energy infrastructure are:

1) Consumers distance: wind will continue to be the most important energy sources, renewables. Most of the local wind energy is produced by many wind turbines on land and at sea in the north. Large amounts of energy must be transported from there to the present and future consumption centers in central and southern Germany. The current electricity grids are not designed  for the transmission of large amounts of electricity over such long distances along the north-south axis.

2) Decentralization and diversity: Creating Strong, centralized systems (which include wind farms and large solar systems are), are complemented by a large number and variety of different small and medium-energy producers in Germany. These include, for example, solar energy systems, biogas plants on farms, the turbines on the plains and hills, and many more, including new and innovative energy sources.

3) Volatility: Unlike fossil and nuclear energy sources that allow a steady flow of energy and transport into the power grid, the electricity generation by alternative energy sources depends on the weather and so they are sometimes extremely volatile. The volatility of energy is constantly increasing and will likely continue to be the rule rather than exception. Striking a balance between production and consumption and thus maintain the network stability in the future, the number of producers, consumers, and storage must be actively and intelligently integrated in the network operation.

The TSOs want to pursue these new technology developments and integrate them into any new NEP. According to them the energy landscape of tomorrow will be more diverse and interconnected,  and it presents completely different demands to power grids. The TSOs stating that the German power grid is considered one of the safest and most reliable worldwide. But presently the growing integration of renewable sources of energy and the increase in the fluctuating supply brings the networks to their capacity limits. This gives the risk of  network collapse or the shutdown of renewable energy.

The network expansion in Germany currently lags behind the expansion and usage of renewable energy sources. New energy sources will need new networks. The TSOs are emphasizing that the modernization and the need for adequate expansion of German power grids are a first step and prerequisite for the success of the energy transition, and thus key to the entering of the new era of renewable energy. Much work must be done so that the grids do not remain the oft-mentioned bottleneck of energy transition.

The core of the new transmission network are four DC-transmission corridors with a route length of approximately 2.100km and a transmission capacity in the North-South direction provided by 10 GW. The new building-lines for the AC power is about 1.700km. The estimated investment costs in the German transmission grid by 2022, depending of the chosen development scenario, vary  between the 19 and 23 billion euro.

Data Center stakeholders should closely watch the current Power Grid developments in Europe. If you are interested in this topic, have a look at the presentation on Power markets, Power prices and Data Centres in Europe given at Datacentres 2012 conference in Nice. Or read more about this in the report published by Broadgroup. And if you can read German you can find the NEP 2012 report here.

Japan Power Grid crisis: countdown for shutdown

Hokkaido Electric Power Company has started with the shut down of reactor N0. 3 of the Tomari atomic power plant. By Sunday, the unit of 912 MW will officially come offline.Tomari nuclear power plant
Although the shut down is due for its regular maintenance checkup this is a dramatic event for Japan. It is the last of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors that will be switched off and then Japan will be completely without nuclear power.

Until last year, before the Fukushima accident, Japan was planning to generate half its electricity from nuclear energy by 2030. But now in one year time about 50 gigawatts of nuclear power plant capacity has been switched off, that is about 30% of the electricity generation in Japan.

The government already projects a 5% power shortage for Tokyo, while power companies predict a 16% power shortfall in western Japan, which includes the major industrial city of Osaka.

Unsurprisingly, this loss of electricity generation in Japan is leading to massive changes. Much of the capacity that has been lost or suspended has been replaced by carbon-heavy fossil fuels generating thermal power. Oil, coal and gas now generate about nearly 90 percent of Japan’s electricity, with hydropower accounting for about 8 percent and other renewables (solar, wind, etc.) making up the balance. The International Energy Agency estimates shutting all nuclear plants increases oil demand by 465000 barrels a day to 4.5 million barrels a day, raising Japan’s daily costs by about $100 million.

The business sector starts to feel the consequences of the growing dependence on fossil fuels. Tokyo Electric Power Company faced heavy criticism when it announced that it would increase rates starting from the first of April .The Japan Information Technology Services Industry Association in late March demanded the hike be postponed but the electricity supplier said it had been facing with mounting costs for fossil fuels to run thermal plants because all of its nuclear reactors were shut.

On top of this Japan is also facing another problem. Without nuclear power, Japan is projected to produce an additional 180 million-210 million tons of emissions this fiscal year compared to the base year of 1990, when emissions totaled 1.261 billion tons. That wipes out a significant chunk of reductions Japan achieved earlier. Officials believe Japan can still barely meet its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions during the five-year period through 2012 by an average of 6 percent from 1990 levels.

To stimulate the use of alternative energy sources, the government is easing restrictions on land use for solar and wind power. It also is relaxing regulations on small hydropower projects and regulations on drilling for geothermal energy in national parks. More crucially, last week it approved feed-in tariffs that are expected to spur investment by guaranteeing higher returns for renewable than for conventional energy. From July, utilities will be required to buy electricity from renewable energy from providers at a rate of 42 yen ($0.52) per kilowatt hour (kWh) for solar energy, 23 yen/kWh for wind power and 30-35 yen/kWh for small-scale hydropower. These preferential rates will apply for 10 to 20 years depending on the energy source.

Just like last year changes can also be expected on the demand side by including the weekend and night operation of factories to spread the electricity load, and much less use of air conditioning.

It will be a close match to get power supply and demand equation right and data center providers shall be fighting again to prevent rolling black outs this summer.

Energy efficient Data Center ≠ Green Data Center

GreenDC“Many IT companies are simply  choosing to attach their modern information factories to some of the dirtiest sources of electricity, supplied by some of the dirtiest utilities on the planet” says Greenpeace.

In their latest reportHow green is your cloud?’, Greenpeace has criticized the cloud computing industry saying that cloud providers “are all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to source of electricity, and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds.”

In response to the report, Urs Hoelzle Google’s Senior Vice President for Technical Infrastructure in a statement published in the New York Times said that: The company welcomed the Greenpeace report and believed that it would intensify the industry’s focus on renewable energy.  Where as Apple and Amazon raises questions about the credibility of the estimates in the Greenpeace report, and illustrates the difficulty of seeking to estimate data center power usage

The discussion on how accurate and valid the estimates in the report are is indeed important but the real problem which is addressed shouldn’t be missed and that is; if an energy efficient data center  equals an green data center.

In the data center world the last two years much attention is given to the usage of PUE as a KPI for energy efficiency. PUE has served its goal to get a rough indication of the energy efficiency of a data center but it has its limitations. For example if servers that were not being used are shut down this can lead to a bigger PUE. But the biggest flaw, from a green IT perspective, in using the PUE is that there is no relation to the Carbon emission based on the electricity that is being used.

This CO2 emission flaw was already addressed in 2010 by Eirikur Hrafnsson CEO  of  Greenqloud (see blog Greenqloud propose green PUE ) and later by the Green Grid with a white paper on the Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE) metric.

Energy efficiency and carbon emission are mixed-up. You can be very energy inefficient and still have zero carbon emission and vice versa you can be very energy-efficient and still have a large carbon emission. Therefore cloud providers and data center operators must look not only at how efficiently they are using electricity, but also the sources of electricity that they are choosing, a detail that many companies are unwilling to disclose on their own. The energy sources of the power grid isn’t the only energy issue. A lot of data centers are using diesel generators as back up or are using generators because of  sub-standard or non-existent grid connection. The claim of green Cloud Computing services and green data centers can only be proven if the providers are more transparent about their energy sources.

If operators neglect carbon emission, dont care because it are external costs, it is “out of scope” for their company or they feel they are not directly responsible, it will come back to them like a boomerang. Resilience to a changing climate demands for decarburization of the energy sources we are using to ensure sustainability. If carbon emission wont be reduced, the government will use rigorous policy instruments to charge for this external costs.

As rightly stated in the Greenpeace report, to create a  more sustainable data center there are several steps that can be taken:

  • Power purchase agreements for renewable energy; Many operators s are recognizing that their influence and market power give them the opportunity and responsibility to demand clean energy investments. Operators can take charge of their electricity supply chain by signing long-term contracts to buy renewable electricity from a specific source through a utility or renewable energy developer via a power purchase agreement (PPA) to help drive renewable electricity onto the grid.
  • Onsite renewable energy;  Operators can install renewable energy on site to generate power for their own operations. For many facilities however, it may be difficult technically or economically to power a significant portion of a large data center with on-site renewable energy. This of course depends on the scale of the facility and the available renewable resources. However, companies are increasingly exploring onsite investments that can help provide better protection against electricity price volatility and, with onsite solar, can help shave electricity demand at the most expensive time of the day. In one of his latest blogs Christian Belady, general manager Data Center Services Microsoft, goes one step further. He raised the question  “Why do data centers need to be connected to a dirty, expensive, unreliable electrical grid?” and gave the answer: “They don’t and they don’t want to be either. Integrating a data center directly into the power plant — what we are calling our Data Plant program — will allow a data center to pick its sustainable fuel source and shield itself from grid volatility.”
  • Location strategy for renewable energy; The current and projected supply of clean electricity varies significantly between nations and regions, and renewable energy growth is largely determined by the energy and investment policies in those places and how the utilities and electricity markets are structured. Given the scale and long-lived nature of data centers, in order to ensure that the supply of clean energy can keep pace with IT’s rapidly growing demand, companies need to make a corporate commitment to engage in energy policy decisions in regions where they establish operations.

Knowing by measuring, managing by knowing

There has been a notable absence of  CUE reporting under companies. An important issue that has to be solved is that a lot of companies don’t know their carbon emission because they don’t measure it. And if you can not measure it, you can not improve it. Proper measures can only be made if there is a clear understanding of the problem. Therefore operators must begin with monitoring and reporting the carbon intensity of their data centers under the ‘new’ Carbon Utilization Effectiveness (CUE) standard.

UPDATE  May 5th

The Green Grid made an official response to the Greenpeace report in short The Green Grid is stating that:

Any study or initiative that raises awareness around the important issues of reducing emissions and increasing energy efficiency and sustainability in the data center and cloud computing sectors is something that The Green Grid supports”  and “We welcome the public interest Greenpeace has generated around this report and also encourage the IT industry to think about the complex idea of a ‘green data center’ in a holistic manner. By properly leveraging metrics like PUE, CUE and WUE alongside other models like The Green Grid’s Data Center Maturity Model, organizations can better understand the broader picture of their energy ecosystems and take steps to become more efficient and sustainable both inside and outside of the data center. Similarly, we encourage organizations of all sizes to actively participate in this important conversation by becoming members The Green Grid.