DCD>Connect Madrid: With the drive to net zero in data centres, the race is on

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  • DCD>Connect Madrid: With the drive to net zero in data centres, the race is on
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Daniel Gomez


Daniel Gomez


Events , People & Culture
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It was a great pleasure to be back at a conference in person, catching up with clients and colleagues from across the industry as well as debating key issues that will help the sector respond to evolving demands. DCD>Connect Madrid delivered on all levels. No one was shying away from the big topics that are occupying our headspace and grabbing the headlines within the data centre market. 

One of the major issues being debated was the challenge of tackling climate change and achieving net zero. This is no surprise, with the booming data centre market currently accounting for 2% of all global greenhouse emissions and energy consumption in the sector forecast to grow from between 5-7% by 2030 (Climate Neutral Group).

Conversations ranged from if we are doing enough to address climate change to where the responsibility lies and if we are investing in the right solutions and innovations to improve systems, such as the use of green energy batteries and the avoidance of fuel emergency generators. These topics impact everything from the design and construction of data centres to their day-to-day operations, so a long-term strategic approach is essential to ensure the right solution is adopted.

Focusing on the big picture

It was encouraging to hear views from industry peers such as Francisco Javier Cirac Ginesta (ISG), who spoke passionately about the importance of achieving net zero for future generations. He encouraged us all to share how we are addressing these challenges on the projects we are working on. Javier was keen to stress that the responsibility lies with all stakeholders – from clients, the design team to contractors and investors.

This is something we firmly believe at RLB. Everyone has a part to play and it’s only by looking at things holistically that we can make a real impact. All stakeholders hold a piece of the puzzle in the challenge to reduce carbon footprint and implement solutions. This holistic overview is vital for the client, at RLB we provide support by informing our clients about the whole life cycle costs of the buildings and the importance of having an overall view of the construction and operational costs. This is an essential approach in the data centres market where operational costs on an annual basis are circa 1.2 times the costs of the initial construction investment.

We know first-hand the benefits of having access to a real time model based on data and intelligence from all stakeholders. It enables clients to make informed, value-based decisions when considering the options for sustainable innovations and the potential impact on programmes, and risks associated with these innovative solutions.

Switching to greener options is multi-layered

Another thought-provoking session was led by Giuseppe Leto (Siemens) who spoke about the ongoing need to change from fossil fuels to green energy and providing options to ensure energy efficiency, such as hydrogen batteries that will form the future of the sector. The majority of clients and investors are still reluctant to change to this approach due to the risks attached to introducing new innovations, rising energy prices and environmental policies. However, we do see the wider adoption of this approach in the very near future.

Prior to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, ‘energy security’ was a concept that didn’t demand much attention. However, now with the instability in the energy market and concerns around overreliance on gas and oil from Russia, it is reinforcing the need to explore alternative sustainable options.

Switching to new green energy technologies is often a multi-layered decision that brings with it new challenges and opportunities. Working with our clients, we know implementing greener solutions, such as moving from using diesel to electric generators, needs careful planning. Potential risks need to be assessed from the impact on project design to consideration of any delays to the build programme and whether there are any factors that could affect the building operation.

Developing a good relationship with the municipality which doesn’t just focus on regional legislation but the wider social value impact on the region should be part of any approach. A recent cautionary tale for this is the mega data centres that came under fire in local communities in the Netherlands for taking over farmland and dominating green energy usage, which escalated into becoming a political issue.

Showcasing innovation

As well as being a forum to discuss challenges, DCD>Connect Madrid provided a welcome opportunity to showcase innovations in technology and celebrate the progress being made. A great example of this was the chat hosted by Manuel Giménez Rasero (SpainDC) with Santiago Rodríguez Agúndez (Ingenostrum), Luis Salaya Julián (Cáceres City Council), Elliot Zounon (CBRE), and Ignacio Gómez-Cornejo (NEXITIC), where they discussed Europe’s first carbon free data centre in Cáceres, Spain. The 70MW data centre will be powered by photovoltaic energy and will have its own liquid cooling system from a man-made lake. This is the approach we need to take, considering design, infrastructure and taking the view that anything is possible. It also demonstrates why Spain is such an attractive market for data centre location.

We need to continue to look for inspiration and solutions outside of the data centres market. There is a huge amount of innovative tech we can borrow from other industries, such as battery storage solutions from the automotive industry. We can also up-skill our own supply chain by learning from others or introducing new suppliers to help meet the challenges of working with new solutions. These are huge opportunities the market can benefit from – and quickly.

It is a pivotal time for data centres and there is so much progress being made. From everyone I spoke to at the event, it’s clear that there is a real appetite to drive change and invest in solutions to address climate change and achieve net carbon zero. Whilst we may not have all the answers, sustainability has been placed firmly at the core of data centre strategy. With environmental legislation continuing to change and the world demanding greener solutions, this is the right approach.