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Data centres in China set to consume more energy than the whole of Australia

Written by Mon 9 Sep 2019

Greenpeace and academics urge data centre industry to play a leading role in China’s transition to renewables

The energy consumed by data centres in China is projected to exceed that consumed by Australia last year, a new report has claimed.

Greenpeace East Asia and the North China Electric Power University, which jointly penned the report (Chinese), estimate the sector’s electricity consumption to jump to 267 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2023, surpassing the 261 TWh consumed by Australian homes and businesses in 2018.

China’s hyperscale data centre industry is the second largest in the world. As the sector currently draws on coal for 73 percent of its energy, it risks exacerbating the environmental damage caused by the release of carbon emissions. The researchers said the country’s largest public cloud providers should play a leading role in China’s transition to renewables as wind and solar power become more accessible.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, more renewable energy is generated in China than in any other country. While most of the capacity is generated in central and western China provinces, China’s data centres are most heavily concentrated in eastern provinces, in and near the country’s largest cities.

“Power market reforms and rapid growth in wind and solar power have created unprecedented opportunities for China’s internet giants to procure clean energy,” said Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Ye Ruiqi.

The report projects the sector’s CO2 emissions to top 163 million tonnes by 2023 if the level of renewable energy consumption remains at 23 percent. If the sector increases intake of renewables by 7 percent, 16 million tonnes of CO2 emissions or 10 million round-trip transatlantic flights can be avoided, the researchers said. The estimates are based on factors including Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), geographic distribution, server rack volume and the energy efficiency of infrastructure design.

To increase their intake of renewables, data centre companies can build or invest in renewable projects, purchase power directly from renewable energy generators or purchase green power certificates (tradable commodities proving that certain electricity is generated using renewable energy sources), the researchers added.

“While China’s data center industry has made significant improvements in terms of energy efficiency, the industry’s massive carbon footprint is proof that much more action is needed to increase reliance on clean energy sources. There is a clear path toward renewable energy-powered data centers in China and an opportunity for innovative companies to lead the way,” said Ye.

Since 2010, Greenpeace has periodically taken aim at tech giants for their reliance on fossil fuels to power hyperscale data centres. This is the first time the organisation has focused on China, the world’s fastest growing IT services market.

China is unique in that it is the only country whose cloud market is dominated by local companies, due to restrictions preventing foreign cloud providers operating data centres in the country. Alibaba currently dominates China’s public cloud market, with Tencent in second place and AWS third, according to Synergy Research. Amazon’s AWS, which dominates the global public cloud market, delegates the operating of its China infrastructure to domestic provider Sinnet.

Written by Mon 9 Sep 2019

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China energy renewables
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