Digital solutions for the climate challenge

With all eyes on COP26, the UN climate change conference, we look at how the technology sector is playing its part by developing innovative solutions and forming key partnerships.

Swedish study first published in 2016 predicted that, without interventions, the communications industry will be responsible for 20% of the world’s electricity consumption by 2025 due to the demand for server farms to store increasing amounts of digital data.

Meanwhile, new research published by the Scottish government ahead of COP26 suggested that digital is a substantial contributor to climate change, making up an estimated 4% of the worldwide carbon footprint, and this is expected to increase.

Finding solutions

Neil Bellamy, Head of TMT and Services at NatWest, says: “As a sector, we want to play our part in decarbonising the global economy, and most observers believe that technology has a huge part to play in solving the planet’s climate change crisis.

“But today’s digital economy is driven by an ever-increasing amount of data, which is held in enterprise cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) utilities, as well as e-commerce, social networking, gaming, and video conferencing.

“This means that while data centres are one of the world’s most important and fastest-growing global infrastructures, they also consume a huge amount of power.”

The transition to a net-zero industry requires a shift in the way data infrastructure is planned, designed and built.

Data centres are essential to a more connected, digital future, but the environmental impact of the sector is something the industry has to come to terms with

Reece Donovan
CEO, iomart

A team of NatWest TMT specialists has been working with businesses across the UK to accelerate their transition to more efficient, sustainable and climate friendly operations.

And two Glasgow businesses are already leading the way in this area, showing how innovation and collaboration can reduce data centre energy consumption and reduce emissions.

The partnership is between green energy start-up Katrick Technologies, and AIM-listed iomart, a cloud computing and IT services business.

Since July this year, iomart has been using certified renewable electricity across its UK data centres. At the beginning of October, it went one step further, installing a prototype of a new heat-removal system developed by Katrick that could have a significant impact on the carbon footprint of its data centres.

Katrick’s technology captures heat energy and converts it into fluid vibrations that remove the heat, creating the desired cooling effect. The system is designed to replace the energy-intensive condensers that account for a high proportion of a data centre’s electricity consumption.

Since the prototype was installed at iomart’s Glasgow data centre, initial feedback has indicated the potential for a 25% reduction to the site’s total energy consumption.

Reece Donovan, CEO of iomart, says: “Data centres are essential to a more connected, digital future, but the environmental impact of the sector is something the industry has to come to terms with. Through projects like this, we can play an active role in taking steps towards a greener future for the tech industry.

“We’ve already seen the potential impact of this technology at our Glasgow data centre and will now look at what next steps are open to us.”

Vijay Madlani, Co-CEO of Katrick Technologies, adds: “Innovation is essential in the fight against climate change, and these test results clearly show a major step forward in reducing the environmental impact of not just one data centre, but of the whole industry.”

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