How to Build Sustainable Subsea Cable Networks

Landing cables at clean, efficient data centers is an important part of the equation

Alex Vaxmonsky
How to Build Sustainable Subsea Cable Networks

Ensuring the sustainability of our digital world is an issue that concerns enterprises, industry analysts and regulators alike. The internet can only be as sustainable as the digital infrastructure that supports it, which is why Equinix and our technology partners are working to develop cleaner, more efficient data centers.

However, there’s another aspect of sustainable digital infrastructure the industry has been slower to address. Despite the fact that 99% of intercontinental internet traffic crosses subsea telecommunications cables, the sustainability of subsea cable networks has received little attention until recently. As late as 2021, there was no industry-wide collaboration happening to measure the carbon footprint of subsea cables and align on best practices to reduce it.

That’s why I’m so excited to share the work of Sustainable Subsea Networks, a SubOptic Foundation project funded by the Internet Society Foundation. Over the last two years, this research initiative has brought together representatives from industry and academia to conduct the first-ever deep-dive study into the carbon footprint of subsea cable networks and the major drivers of cable sustainability. A final report detailing the results was published this week, along with the map below.

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Equinix is proud to contribute to subsea cable sustainability

At Equinix, we recognize that the subsea cable industry is moving toward a more sustainable future. By participating in this report, we hope to provide inspiration and best practices to help push the industry toward that goal.

The report identified steps the industry can take to make the cables themselves more sustainable. These include keeping cables in commission longer, protecting cables to reduce the need for carbon-intensive repairs, and recycling raw materials from decommissioned cables. However, it’s important to remember that subsea cables are part of a network, and they don’t operate in isolation from one another or the infrastructure that supports them on dry land.

Therefore, an essential part of making subsea cables more sustainable is making cable landing stations more sustainable. This’s why Equinix has such an important role to play in enabling the future of sustainable subsea cables: We’ve been working to develop cleaner, more efficient data centers for many years now. We’ve made significant progress toward our sustainability goals, and our subsea cable partners can benefit simply by landing their cables at an Equinix IBX® colocation data center.

The Sustainable Subsea Networks report highlighted a number of things that make Equinix data centers compatible with subsea cable sustainability. I’ll summarize just a few of them here.

Providing clean energy for cable landing stations

The report found that powering cables with renewable energy is an important step toward lowering the carbon footprint of the global subsea cable network. When a cable lands at a data center powered by renewable energy, the sustainability benefits of that renewable energy carry over to the cable.

Equinix is an excellent partner to help provide clean energy for subsea cables. In 2022—the last full year for which statistics are available—we achieved 96% renewables coverage across our global data center footprint. This is our furthest progress so far toward our goal of 100% coverage by 2030. Today, we already offer 223 data center sites with 100% renewables coverage. Many of these are subsea cable landing sites, including:

  • Equinix LA4 in Los Angeles, landing site for the Curie, PLCN and SX Next cables
  • Equinix MC1 in Oman and PE2 in Perth, landing sites for the Oman Australia Cable (OAC)
  • Equinix SY4 in Sydney, landing site for the Haiwaiki and Japan-Guam-Australia South cables
  • Equinix LS1 in Lisbon, landing site for the Equiano and EllaLink cables

The report also names Equinix among the companies that are taking a multifaceted approach to providing renewable energy for cable landing stations:

  • We acquire energy attribute certificates (EACs) to help scale our renewables coverage. As the report notes, Equinix primarily acquires bundled EACs—that is, EACs that are linked directly to the energy they certify. We strive to ensure that all EACs we procure are aligned with applicable certification standards and frameworks.
  • We frequently use power purchase agreements (PPAs) to acquire large volumes of high-quality EACs quickly. We announced several new PPA projects in 2023, bringing our total contracted PPA capacity to more than 900 MW globally.
  • We pursue opportunities for on-site renewable energy generation at our data centers. As of 2022, we had 4.4 MW of on-site solar capacity globally. We’ve also installed 43.5 MW of fuel cell capacity in the U.S. This includes our Equinix SV11 data center in Silicon Valley, which uses fuel cells as a primary power source, and only taps the local energy grid as an emergency backup.

By supporting the growth of renewable energy production and low-carbon technologies, we aim to give subsea cable companies more options for sustainable locations to land their cables. We believe that investing in renewable energy on land translates directly to more sustainable cable networks under the sea.

Building more efficient cable landing stations

Powering cable landing stations with clean, renewable energy is important, but it’s also important to ensure those landing stations aren’t consuming energy wastefully. The report recognizes Equinix among the companies that have received ISO 50001: Energy Management certification, indicating that we follow a model of continual improvement to achieve efficient energy use.

Power usage effectiveness (PUE) is the primary metric used to measure data center efficiency. A lower PUE represents a more efficient data center that dedicates less energy to non-compute tasks like cooling and lighting. As the report notes, it’s rare for cable landing stations to publicly announce their PUEs, and Equinix data centers are among the few that do. We believe this transparency allows subsea cable companies to make informed decisions about the most energy-efficient locations to land their cables. We’ve been incrementally improving our PUE year over year, and we recently published a global annualized PUE of 1.46.

The report also mentions Equinix’s leadership in green building design for the data center industry. We are committed to achieving LEED or comparable green building standard certification for all new construction projects. Among our existing sites that have already achieved LEED certification, several are subsea cable landing sites. This includes Equinix SY4 in Sydney, a landing point for the Hawaiki and Japan-Guam-Australia South cable systems.

In addition, several of our data centers in Singapore have received Platinum certification for the BCA-IMDA Green Mark for Data Centres Scheme. To achieve this certification, existing data centers must account for PUE, cooling system efficiency, IT power chain efficiency, hot/cold aisle containment and more. Equinix SG3, a landing site for the Asia-Africa-Europe-1 (AAE-1) cable, is among our Platinum-certified data centers in Singapore.

Learn more about how Equinix supports sustainable subsea cables

As subsea cable companies work toward a sustainable future, it’s essential that they have the right partners on land to support their goals. With the progress we’ve already made toward scaling our renewable energy coverage and building cleaner, more efficient data centers globally, Equinix is well suited to be among those partners. Access the Equinix interactive sustainability report today for more details about our work.

If you’re attending PTC 2024, we invite you to join the session “Submarine Cables: A Better Future!” on Monday, January 22 at 3:00 PM HST in MPCC, South Pacific 3. You’ll learn more about future sustainability metrics for subsea networks. Also, stop by the Equinix suite (Tapa Tower 2030) and meet with us to learn more about how we can help support sustainable subsea cable systems in the future.

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Alex Vaxmonsky Former Director, Business Development for Global Service Providers
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