As data centers take on increasingly larger workloads, operators are looking for new ways to keep temperatures cool and reduce their environmental impact by deploying various innovative initiatives. Equinix is dedicated to creating a better future through our Future First sustainability strategy, enabling our International Business Exchange® (IBX®) and xScale® data centers to increase overall operational efficiencies, achieve renewables coverage and meet our emissions reduction goals. I spoke with Data Center Dynamics to discuss the challenges of sustainability within the data center industry and Equinix’s current progress towards achieving ESG outcomes through a “Future First” agenda.
As the world’s digital infrastructure company®, we believe it’s our responsibility to act as a sustainability enabler across our industry. Investing in and scaling renewables as much as possible across our portfolio is a key initiative to achieve our sustainability goals. In 2022, we achieved 96% renewables coverage across our global operations, a major milestone towards our goal of reaching 100% clean and renewable by 2030. As our journey towards climate neutrality progresses, we’ve continued exploring innovative ways to overcome sustainability challenges alongside our customers, partners, investors and internal teams. To date, Equinix has issued approximately US$4.9 billion in green bonds and is recognized globally as one of the largest green bond issuers. Read the snapshot below for key ideas from our discussion or watch the fireside chat to learn more about how Equinix is contributing to the greening of local market electricity grids and striving for climate neutrality by 2030.
Climate neutrality – How steep is the climb?
There isn’t an abundance of renewable energy in the Asia-Pacific region on a comparative basis with regions such as Europe or even the Americas. How much of a barrier is this in your journey to climate neutrality?
There are different rates of maturity for renewables across the global landscape when observing each individual market. We know that the corporate renewables market in Asia-Pacific is still developing, which presents different opportunities and challenges compared to more mature markets. Even within the region, there are different stages of maturity within each market.
There are ways to make renewables more available. Power purchase agreements (PPAs) and virtual power purchase agreements (VPPAs) are growing renewable procurement strategies in Asia-Pacific that allow organizations to invest in renewable electricity at scale while developing renewables availability in local market grids. At Equinix, we continue to assess these opportunities while looking for different ways to embed sustainability in the Asia-Pacific operation. One example is an initiative in Singapore where we partnered with NUS Center for Energy Research to research green hydrogen as a fuel alternative to traditional grid power. There are lots of different options we’re considering, but as of now, one of our main focus is on PPAs across the region where we can help bring more renewables directly onto the grid.
Regulations and metrics – do they help or hinder?
It would be great to get your thoughts on Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and its current value as a metric. What does it do well and enable us to do and communicate about our operations as a sector?
PUE is the total energy provided to the facility divided by the IT load of the facility. Though it is not the only metric to measure efficiency, it is a general metric that estimates the efficiency of the facility. When you focus on PUE, you’re measuring both the efficiency of the facility and its operational ability to achieve the most optimal outcome. I think it is an important metric that needs to be considered.
When you look at building sustainable infrastructure, one of the first things you have to do is measure Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions to know both the level of emissions being produced on-site and the amount of emissions coming from grid-purchased electricity. An important element of ensuring continuous, reliable and resilient power to our data center operations is to implement backup and off-grid power sources. Improving the efficiency of our power usage, and therefore measuring and reducing PUE, is an important step toward greater energy independence.
When we look at our PUEs, we have a specific design target that we assign to our new facilities. We also use it to analyze the usage efficiency of our existing facilities, which combined with new installations add up to 250 data centers around the world. In fact, between 2021 and 2022, we were able to achieve approximately 5.5% improvement in PUE across our global footprint of data centers through programs that ensure we are driving efficiencies at each individual site.
Where do you see the sector going next?
Technological innovation is key to Equinix’s progression as one of the largest REITs in the world with projects encompassing everything from hydrogen fuel cells and direct-to-chip cooling to software defined power. Are these innovations also applicable to operations across APAC and if not, is there a timeline which has been mapped out for adoption?
We look at our business through a global lens, where innovations can come from Asia-Pacific, EMEA or the Americas but are distributed everywhere. For example, we have done 45 megawatts worth of fuel cell projects across 15 sites in the US. We see the opportunity to leverage all these capabilities across our entire footprint, however, not all technologies are appropriate or possible for every region. For example, we take a local approach with cooling innovations, where we assess the feasibility and impact potential of various technologies based on regionally unique factors and apply the method that produces the most optimal environmental outcome in each individual facility.
It’s important that we can provide all these benefits to our customers through a global platform. Whether consumers are using Android and Apple devices or digital healthcare, finance online payments, e-commerce and even hybrid working models, all of these things require digital infrastructure. Equinix continues to grow our digital footprint in the Asia-Pacific region, with sustainability being an integral part of our expansion strategy. Watch the fireside chat discussion between DCD and myself to learn more about how Equinix is managing the challenges of balancing reliability, sustainability and data center efficiency across our entire portfolio to achieve climate neutrality by 2030.