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Hong Kong datacenters lack renewable energy options

o Teresa Leung
19.06.2012 kl 19:56 | Computerworld Hong Kong

Datacenters in Hong Kong can never become greener -- because Hong Kong's government is lukewarm to the use of renewable energy."

 

Datacenters in Hong Kong can never become greener -- because Hong Kong's government is lukewarm to the use of renewable energy."

"Despite an 18% growth in local datacenter floor space from 2010 to 2011, the government has no metrics for assessing the environmental impact of energy used to power datacenters," said Yau Yeung, Greenpeace's Clean Our Cloud campaigner in Hong Kong. "The problem will get worse because datacenters and cloud providers have no choice but to use 'dirty' energy produced by coal, gas, and nuclear power in Hong Kong."

The current local grid-power mix is 54% coal, 23% nuclear energy, and 23% natural gas, according to a recent Greenpeace report: "How Clean is your Cloud" -- the report adds that electricity generation accounts for 67% of local greenhouse gas emissions.

Systematic problems

The local government proposes a token increase in the use of renewable energy by 2020: from currently less than 1% to 1-2%, said Yeung. "That means tech firms like Google -- which receives high marks for being more transparent about its energy use and committing to use renewable energy in our latest report -- won't be able to do the same at its Hong Kong datacenter, which is slated to go live in 2013," said Yeung.

Despite Google's green commitment, it declined to comment on Hong Kong's lack of renewable energy sources for its datacenter and its criteria in choosing datacenter locations.

HKEx (Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing) -- now building a Tier 4 datacenter in Tseung Kwan O -- also refused to comment on energy sources. The facility -- to be completed by Q3 this year -- will support up to 1,200 racks with a total power load of 8MWm, said Jonathan Leung, head of Hosting Services, HKEx. "We are committed to sustainability," said Leung. "Our facility has attained the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification at the gold level."

However, energy sources and usage is only one among many areas the LEED certification measures. A green building rating-system developed by the US Green Building Council, LEED formally recognizes the adoption of environmentally friendly practices in a construction project. There are four levels of certification --certified, silver, gold, and platinum.

Joe Locandro, director, Group Information Technology, CLP, said Hong Kong is limited by its geographical location and the lack of space in renewable energy development. "Wind farms and solar farms require lots of space," said Locandro. "In addition, renewable energy should be [considered] part of the overall datacenter-power mix as wind, water, and sunshine are never as stable as we desire." CLP is piloting an off-shore wind farm 10km off Sai Kung, he said.

Greenpeace urged the local IT sector to take the use of renewable energy seriously. As the peak load of Hong Kong has become static in recent years, the expansion of datacenters might be the only reason for increased capacity, the activist organization said. "The local IT sector can have a strong positive influence by setting a renewable energy-friendly siting policy and buying wind power," Yeung noted.

To global tech players who might or might not set up datacenters in Hong Kong, he said: "These big boys have colossal profits annually. Renewable energy sources only cost these firms a tiny fraction of the money they earn."

Apple: green by 2013?

Apple is one of several global tech firms given poor marks for its heavy use of coal in powering datacenters in the Greenpeace report.

Despite its denial of the Greenpeace claim, Apple announced in May that it will power its North Carolina datacenter entirely by renewable energy sources by end-2012. This took place after Greenpeace infiltrated Apple's Cupertino campus and projected messages from Twitter and Facebook users who are dismayed at Apple's use of coal at the datacenter that powers its iCloud sources.

Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said that Apple's plans have been in place since last year, and declined to comment on whether the changes were made following Greenpeace's protests.

According to Apple, its North Carolina datacenter will have 60% of its power produced onsite from renewable sources while the other 40% will be purchased from local and regional renewable sources. In addition, Apple is building the largest non-utility fuel cell installation in the US, and the nation's largest private solar arrays, in order to provide renewable energy, the company added.

"Apple's announcement today is a great sign that the firm is taking seriously the hundreds of thousands of its customers who have asked for an iCloud powered by clean energy, not dirty coal," said Greenpeace International senior IT analyst Gary Cook. "Apple's doubling of its solar capacity and investment in local renewable energy are key steps to creating a cleaner iCloud."

Additional reporting by IDG News Service staff

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Greenpeace: Datacenter owners misuse PUE

Some companies increasingly misuse PUE (power usage effectiveness) to give an impression of running green datacenters, said Greenpeace in its "How Clean is Your Cloud" report.

PUE, which measures how much power is actually used by computing equipment in contrast to cooling and other factors, has achieved broad adoption within the tech sector, and has value in helping datacenter operators benchmark design and performance of their facilities, Greenpeace pointed out.

"However, companies are happy to report this figure because it reveals nothing in terms of their actual energy consumption," the organization says in the report.

"It's a poor metric for determining how green a datacenter is, as it doesn't account for how firms manage computer resources inside the datacenter, and in some circumstances, it penalizes better performance," the report reads. "For example, if a cloud manager identifies servers that aren't in use and decides to shut them off and create virtual servers, that can result in a decrease in power consumption but an increase in the facility's PUE."

According to the organization, a PUE of 2 or more was average until recently, indicating a datacenter where nearly half of the demand is being directed to equipment other than the computers inside. By comparison, a "perfect" PUE score would be 1, indicating all electricity is being consumed by the computers, and utility-scale cloud companies are increasingly reporting PUEs between 1.1 and 1.6, Greenpeace noted.

Another severe limitation of PUE as an indicator of green performance is that the figure is unrelated to the carbon content of the electricity being consumed. "For example, if a datacenter is largely powered by renewable energy but has a poor PUE, it will still contribute significantly less pollution than a facility largely powered by coal but with a lower PUE," said Greenpeace.

Keywords: Environment  
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