Singapore’s Data Centers are Tackling the Sustainability Dilemma

In a 2022 global market comparison report, Singapore was ranked as the number two most-desirable market for data center facilities in the world. Due to many factors, including market size, access to major global cloud service providers, and a favorable political and regulatory environment, Singapore is near the top of the list, tying for the second position with the Silicon Valley region in California.

Despite a moratorium on new data center construction that has been in place since 2019, Singapore’s data center market has a current development pipeline of nearly 200 MW and the investment turnover of data centers in Singapore nearly doubled in volume between 2020 and 2021. With an influx in data-hungry businesses, including AWS, Microsoft, and Google, Singapore is poised for intense market growth in the coming years. To capture this economic opportunity and achieve the vision of a digital-first nation, Singapore has lifted its moratorium and is piloting a call for new data center applications in Q2 2022 with a focus on sustainable development. Alongside this explosive growth, Singapore faces several challenges that need to be overcome to ensure calibrated growth and environmental responsibility, and to fulfill its full potential as a global data center hub.

In pursuit of green data centers

Data centers are the bedrock of our rapidly digitizing world. Behind every app, website, and software is a data center filled with computer servers that support the function of the tools that the world has come to rely upon for business, education, and social engagement. However, the proliferation of these critical facilities also threatens the environmental health of the regions in which they are built.

This is because data centers are notoriously resource-intensive, particularly when it comes to electricity and water. In 2021, global data center energy demand eclipsed 190TWh, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Although traditional data centers are experiencing a promising drop-off in energy demand, the hyperscale facilities that the digital giants of the world, like Amazon and Google, need are still drawing more and more energy each year.

Global Data Center Energy Demand by Data Center Type, 2015-2021. Source: IEA

In 2020, seven percent of Singapore’s total electricity consumption went to data centers and the market is poised to grow to 12% of Singapore’s consumption by 2030. Furthermore, data centers – especially those in the sub-tropical Singapore heat – require large amounts of water to keep the servers cool. For scale, a small 1 MW data center would use 26 million liters of water per year. Singapore is expected to add 60 MW of total data center capacity under the pilot.

In acknowledgment of the resource intensity of data centers, Singapore’s government is emphasizing the critical importance of sustainable practices in its pilot program for new data center construction and operation. It has instituted several strict regulations that data centers must follow to ensure that all new facilities demonstrate best-in-class power and resource efficiency.

The minimum requirements that data centers will need to meet are as follows:

Additionally, prospective data centers are recommended to integrate strategic value adds beyond the minimum requirements within their plans. Demonstrating the following benefits will set them apart from other applicants:

  • Strengthening Singapore as a regional DC Hub
  • Improving Singapore’s international connectivity
  • Bringing value beyond the data center environment
  • Using best-in-class IT equipment for energy efficiency
  • Adopting renewable energy

Tackling the sustainable data center dilemma

Singapore’s position as a promising market for data center development does not mean that operating a data center here comes without challenges. Data centers are subject to many of the same issues that challenge the development of renewable energy in Singapore. Singapore is a densely populated and resource-constrained island nation that has very limited available space for development, meaning the price of land is at a premium compared to other markets. The country depends heavily on liquified natural gas (LNG) imports for its energy generation and is scarce of renewable resources that can be translated into clean power.

Further, Singapore’s long-time commitment to climate action and environmental responsibility, which was boosted after the country signed and ratified the Paris agreement in 2016, means that data center sustainability will remain under the microscope. In 2022, the country committed to raising its ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Together, these sustainable growth targets and market nuances present data center businesses with some challenges to comply with regulations but also the immense opportunity to embrace the evolution of green data centers while maximizing value. The Green Data Centre Innovation Programme (GDCIP), established by the Infocomm Media Development Agency (IMDA), includes several initiatives that connect industry partners and the research community to support data center businesses expanding into Singapore. Each of these initiatives under the Programme, including the Research Grant Call, the Innovation Call-for-Collaboration, and the Innovation Hub are a testbed supporting research, development, and demonstrations in data center efficiency. The program is a resource to businesses in Singapore, facilitating collaboration, peer learning, and technology testing, all aimed at achieving a model for Singapore’s sustainable data center industry expansion.

Data center sustainability is a topic not unique to Singapore. Leading businesses with existing data center operations around the world are already giving a glimpse into the what the sustainable data centers of the future will look like. From completing retrofits and upgrades that improve the energy efficiency of equipment to increasing use of renewable and other low-carbon energy sources, many data centers are already putting the technology to the test that Singapore’s new pilot will require. For example, in the U.S., Equinix has recently announced the opening of a new data center facility that will serve as its innovation lab to incubate sustainable solutions such as clean hydrogen-enabled fuel cells and battery storage. As the data center industry in Singapore gets more sophisticated in its sustainability activities, innovative leaders like Equinix can be used as a benchmark for how to move forward.

Data: the prerequisite to sustainable data center initiatives

The five main categories of impact driving data center sustainability – energy, emissions, land and biodiversity, waste, and water – are all underpinned by a fundamental understanding of data. To improve on any of these areas, data centers must first have a grasp on their current performance and standardize the key metrics they will use to measure and report on progress. To ease this transition for both new and existing data centers seeking to build a robust climate action and reporting practice, Schneider Electric has identified a list of 23 sustainability metrics that apply to data centers across these five main categories.

We invite you to download our Guide to Environmental Sustainability Metrics for Data Centers to dive into the details of the key metrics for data centers to be tracking and improving upon. The metrics are mapped to each stage of the sustainability journey and are designed to provide any data center with recommendations relevant to the stage it is at today, whether just getting started or already well on the way to net-zero. In the guide, you will also find advice on how to set targets to optimize sustainability, select the appropriate metrics to measure, and choose frameworks and standards to report on progress. 

Click here to access the guide today.

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