Making data centers part of Europe’s sustainable energy transformation

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Microsoft #TechTalk

Cloud-based digital services are rapidly reshaping European cities, businesses and lives. Yet increased usage of such technologies also implies greater need for data centers, which in turn places an additional demand on Europe’s energy systems. At a time when governments, companies and consumers are striving to reduce carbon emissions, this demand must be carefully managed.

In the latest edition of #TechTalk, Microsoft’s Director of Energy Research, Sean James, discusses how Microsoft, which has been carbon neutral since 2012, manages its carbon footprint through an internal carbon tax, while also working to build data centers powered by 100 percent renewable energy and investing in innovative energy storage technologies.

James explains how, for companies looking to deploy cloud technology in an environmentally friendly way, collaborating with a cloud provider is ideal: data centers, for instance, are up to 93 percent more energy efficient and up to 98 percent more carbon efficient than traditional on premise operations.

Such efficiencies are possible thanks to the steps Microsoft is taking to invest in state-of-the-art data centers that place sustainability at the forefront. At the same time, the company is investigating the as-yet untapped potential of fuel cells, flow batteries, and hydrogen energy storage technologies.

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Such solutions could circumvent some of the traditional barriers to renewable energy adoption, such as helping to manage the intermittent and unpredictable supply of energy. But they can also help transform data centers into an asset for Europe’s energy grids, since they could allow data centers to store energy and feed it back into the grid for other consumers and businesses to use when needed.

But more needs to be done in terms of research and development to push the boundaries of innovative energy technology in a data center environment. Microsoft started exploring this at its Advanced Energy Lab in Seattle and looks for opportunities to collaborate with partners in Europe to rethink the role of data centers in building a more sustainable grid in Europe. Research programs such as Horizon Europe, which is also focused on the development of innovative zero-carbon solutions, could facilitate some of this work.

Microsoft is on track to achieve its ambition of powering its data centers with 100 percent renewable energy. By the end of this year, the company will meet its 2020 target of 60 percent, with the next milestone goal of 70 percent in sight for 2023. By seeking out efficiencies and fostering innovation inside and outside the company, the ambition of ensuring that Europe’s data centers contribute to a sustainable energy system could soon become a reality.

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