When endeavoring to maximize the impacts of green initiatives, it’s not enough to be attentive to one’s own clean energy procurement. Forward-thinking data center providers also need to find a way to enable clients and partners to leverage their own specific strategies.
Covering Your Own Base
In the realm of commercial real estate, data center providers, like Stream Data Centers, traditionally focused on developing facilities that house computing and networking infrastructure – things like servers, routers, fiber optic cables, and cooling systems. Because data centers consume about 1% of the global power supply, at one point our industry was beginning to get painted as the slackers of the environmental community.
To stay competitive, data center providers and hardware manufactures continue to evolve design to drive energy efficiency, which saves our customers millions of dollars in operating expenses. The efficiency gains effectively “flatten” total electrical consumption while managing >30% year over year growth in network and data usage.
In addition to efficiency gains, customer demand for renewable energy is climbing. As a result, data center infrastructure has taken a turn for the green through a mix of corporate initiatives and government mandates.
For our part, Stream is no stranger to this trend. The load from all of our newly commissioned facilities is offset by renewable energy sources with the rest of our inventory soon to follow. We’ve optimized how energy is used within our facilities as well, as modern data center design moves toward the most energy-responsible and efficient class of buildings on earth.
Enabling the Green Strategies of Others
What this rush to embrace renewable energy often overlooks, however, is the complex reality of being a business must operate in tandem with tenants. Yes, sourcing and bringing green power to one’s data center is an admirable and necessary step in the path to a more sustainable future. But, is it enough?
In many cases, data center providers will find larger clients arriving at the door already equipped with in-place power purchase agreements (PPAs) from clean energy generation sources. These may or may not be aligned with the provider’s own plan. What should happen in these cases?
Here, data center providers ought to take a collaborative approach that involves flexibility and creative problem solving. In Stream’s case, we want to do everything in our power to support our customers with their existing renewable energy strategies and agreements. We find it counterproductive to force customers to do it all our way.
For example, we facilitate a pathway for customers who are an EPA-certified Green Power Partner, to continue in with their current energy procurement strategy. Structuring deals with clients to interlock different renewable energy plans isn’t always straightforward, but it needs to be a priority for those of us in the data center industry. Collaboration often isn’t the most expedient path but can often be the most effective one.
Encouraging Others to Go Green
Still, there are others without commitments to renewable energy. In these cases, we at Stream not only lay out the bevy of options available to them but work alongside potential clients to construct their green energy strategy from scratch when appropriate.
Often this means facilitating the purchase of new green PPAs or renewable energy credits on behalf of the client, which Stream is happy to do with the goal of limiting our mutual carbon footprint. Sometimes clients decide to employ specific types of green initiatives, say, solar instead of wind power, wind power from a certain local supplier, or strictly power that does not already exist in the energy pool (what those in the know call additionality). Stream is happy to oblige.
By supporting tenants with their specific approach to procuring green energy, we believe data center providers have a strong role to play in bringing about a more sustainable future. In some cases, clients aren’t aware of their options when contracting with a data center provider. This is where we in the industry should take the opportunity to be as holistic as possible in encouraging them to adopt renewables.
Expanding Your Horizons
Here’s the best news for data center providers: if you become adept at being flexible and creative with your customers around sustainable energy solutions, a whole new business opportunity could open up for you.
Having proven our approach with our data center tenants, we are now seeing demand from clients who aren’t leasing space within our facilities. It all started with a company who was interested in leveraging our expertise to create an energy strategy, inclusive of sustainability initiatives. Now, our goal with similar clients is to ensure their ability to source sustainable energy options and protocols that are as carbon neutral as possible, while remaining financially viable.
What we’ve learned is that our approach to supporting our customers’ renewable energy strategies doesn’t need to be limited to inside our data center walls. Just as true partnerships extend beyond typical business lines, so too does true environmental stewardship. Going green, it turns out, works best as a team game.
As published in D Magazine’s CRE Opinion D-CEO Blog, July 2020.