Datacentres should become ‘climate neutral' by 2030, the EU has said as it warned that digital transformation must not come at the cost of the planet.
In a communication on Europe's digital future, the European Commission said that digital technologies are "profoundly changing our daily life" and have sparked a transformation "as fundamental as that caused by the industrial revolution".
The environmental footprint of the ICT sector is "significant", however, it noted, citing estimations that it is responsible for five to nine per cent of the world's total electricity use and more than two per cent of all emissions.
"As powerful enablers for the sustainability transition, digital solutions can advance the circular economy, support the decarbonisation of all sectors and reduce the environmental and social footprint of products placed on the EU market," it said.
"Yet it is also clear that the ICT sector also needs to undergo its own green transformation."
Datacentres and telecommunications will need to become more energy efficient, reuse waste energy, and use more renewable energy sources, the Commission said.
"They can and should become climate neutral by 2030," it said, although it stopped short of setting out detailed plans to achieve this.
How ICT equipment is designed, bought, consumed and recycled also matters, the Commission added.
"Beyond the energy efficiency requirements of Ecodesign, ICT equipment must become fully circular - designed to last longer, to be properly maintained, to contain recycled material and to be easily dismantled and recycled," it said.
Noting that it was merely a call for industry action, some reports have painted the Commission's statement as a victory for datacentre operators seeking to parry or at least delay the threat of regulation.
Jonathan Evans is a director of Total Data Centre Solutions and an advisor to EcoDataCenter, a "climate-positive" Swedish datacentre built from wood that uses waste heat from the servers to heat the local town and a local wood pellet manufacturing plant.
Talking to Channel Partner Insight, he said policy makers should scrutinise not only at power supply and efficiency but also what happens to waste heat.
"No matter how ‘green' the datacenter power supply and efficient the server cooling, the vast majority of heat generated by servers is discharged outside the datacentre into the atmosphere and wasted," he said.
"Capturing this wasted energy as EcoDataCenter have done by using it in local utilities is the only way forward."
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