Measuring carbon emissions: How can business really be accurate?

by ClickGreen staff. Published Fri 09 Dec 2011 16:06, Last updated: 2011-12-09
Is there a better way of measuring energy efficiency?
Is there a better way of measuring energy efficiency?

Guy Ruddock, Vice President for design, delivery and operations at Colt Data Centre Services discusses the impact of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme league tables:

The Department of Energy and Climate Change recently published the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme performance league tables which has ranked companies according to their carbon emissions. While the programme is aimed at improving energy efficiency and cutting emissions in large public and private sector organisations, some believe there are alternative and more effective ways of doing this.

Earlier this year, the US Department of Energy (DoE) issued recommendations for measuring and publishing energy efficiency in Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) for all data centres with the aim of delivering a consistent and repeatable measurement strategy that allows data centre operators to monitor and improve the energy efficiency of their facilities. The DoE has openly recognised how effective PUE is but the question remains as to which measurement should be used in the UK. Should we follow the US example of using PUE or stick to the controversial CRC scheme?

The issue with the CRC, which was introduced in 2010 with its allowance sales coming into effect in 2012, is that it doesn’t address key challenges at the heart of the energy problem including, the role of data centre outsourcers, increasing power costs, and the benefits of renewable and sustainable power resources in addition to heat reuse and water use.

Taking all this into consideration, it could be said that the CRC is placing a disproportionate focus on rewarding participants who meet their pre-defined narrow ‘Early Action’ metrics, despite them achieving minimal carbon savings. For example, as one part of these metrics, an organisation can, by simply replacing two manually read meters with automated ones, achieve 50 percent of the total ‘Early Action’ metrics and under the current scheme. This means they would be excessively rewarded for very little effort and insignificant carbon savings.

The role of the data centre outsourcer
UK organisations are heavily reliant on data centres to survive. They require the capacity to store and secure their critical data as well as to provide instant access to it. In addition, data centres are core to a company’s ability to better cope with increasingly new computer intensive business models. By developing and delivering reliable, efficient and flexible data centre solutions for the market, specialists are enabling businesses to grow and develop in the most power efficient way possible. They are, in effect, becoming the carbon outsourcer and in turn are reducing the overall emissions emitted by UK organisations into the environment. In some cases, where customers are using innovative models such as modular builds, reductions in energy of over 40% are being achieved.

It would therefore be more beneficial for both the environment and the industry, to segment data centre operators from other CRC participants. This would take into consideration the added value these operators bring by taking on the carbon footprint of their customers. Much like in the US, it would be more accurate if a PUE related metric was established to measure and reward efficiency through ongoing annual reductions and effectively ensure a carbon tax is payable relative to the average PUE achieved.

Rewarding efficiency
There is an opportunity for CRC to take into account the investment data centre specialists are making in new innovative, sustainable energy sources, such as geothermal and hydroelectric power, to run their data centres. These investments are having a massive impact in driving further efficiencies for customers and UK businesses and it would be more effective to introduce metrics that reward this deployment.

Other environmental factors that the CRC overlooks include: Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE). Another popular metric introduced by the Green Grid, WUE, measures water usage. Including this metric within the CRC would ultimately result in a more comprehensive view of how green UK businesses really are and would encourage businesses to invest in renewable and sustainable power resources without over use water in alternative methods of cooling. It would also reward those that do it on-site, which is essential to counterbalance the rise in cost of power, a daily challenge that businesses are facing.

PUE as an alternative
PUE was conceived by the Green Grid, an association of over 170 international IT professionals and is the most widely accepted concept of measuring data centre efficiency. It has become the primary ‘unofficial’ metric for measuring energy efficiencies in the industry and is considered by many in the UK as the most effective method of doing so. It is very evident that data centre specialists have accepted PUE as their preferred measurement and that customers look to the PUE for an indication of efficiency when buying data centre space.

Whilst this measurement itself is often the source of debate, it still remains the most effective means of evaluating efficiency as it includes both the total incoming power and technical load (IT power) as a ratio. To exemplify exactly what sort of impact that has in terms of CO2 savings consider the following as an example – using a modular 5MW data centre with a PUE of 1.21 versus an industry standard 5MW data centre with a PUE of 1.8 will save a staggering 14,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, the equivalent of 5,362 return flights from Heathrow to Malaga each year.

Consequently, there is a feeling that in the UK we should be formally recognising PUE as a better metric for measuring energy efficiency than the current CRC scheme being implemented. Since PUE is already widely recognised as a benchmark for green efficiencies, using it as a measurement would be a simpler way of introducing obligatory regulations. More importantly, it would accurately outline UK businesses’ carbon emissions and as a result, provide a clearer path to driving them down.

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