Norway’s government has an ambitious target: to become the world’s most sustainable data centre nation.[1] Like Iceland, the country has some unique geographical advantages in this area. It has relatively cold and wet weather, meaning less need for cooling than in, say, Mediterranean countries. Norway’s long coastline and fjords also provide ready access to plenty of cold water for natural cooling.

The government has taken advantage of the topography and climate to develop a strong hydroelectric sector, over many years. Around 99% of Norway’s electricity is now generated from renewable sources, putting its data centres several steps ahead of the rest of the world.

Sustainability and innovation

However, Norway’s data centres themselves are not backwards in coming forwards on sustainability. Svein Atle Hagaseth is Chief Sales Officer at Green Mountain,[2] a Norwegian data centre company founded in 2009. He points out the importance of seeing the bigger picture on sustainability.

“Sustainability is about setting green standards. It is a USP for data centres, but it should also be considered as a much bigger topic. It should not be just about competitive advantage.”

Green Mountain has a growing number of North American clients who want to expand their data centre capacity in Europe. They are attracted to Norway by the supply of carbon neutral data centres, and those powered by renewable energy. Green Mountain currently has three state-of-the-art, highly energy-efficient carbon-neutral data centres.

“In Norway, we are fortunate to have 99% renewable power, which is about 96% hydroelectric and 3% wind. We’ve also made some innovations in using the fjord outside our data centre. We use the gravity of the water to get it inside the data centre and then we use just two small pumps. We only need three kilowatts of power to get the equivalent of a thousand kilowatts of cooling. It’s the world’s most energy efficient cooling system.”

Moving forward

Where does a company like Green Mountain go next? The answer is elsewhere, both geographically, and on sustainability. Green Mountain would like to expand into other areas of Europe. However, this may not be easy.

We’d like to venture outside Norway, but the question is which country to choose. If you look at the electricity map,[3] you can see that there are some European countries where there is very little access to renewable energy: Poland, for example. That makes it much more difficult to keep our USP. We’d probably look towards Germany instead, where we can promote a new generation of data centres that are fully sustainable, being both energy efficiency and carbon neutral.”

Svein highlights the importance of reporting on action to improve sustainability.

“It is important to report and in a transparent way. Starting to report the classic Scope 1 to 3 is good, but it is important to go beyond that. We need to look further than “green washing” reporting, and look at actual facts that matter and that can be measured.”

From April this year, Green Mountain is committed to publishing a detailed Annual Sustainability report, connected to the UN Sustainability Goals, and providing value to its customers. Its power usage effectiveness (PUE) is between 1.08 and 1.18, which is good, but Svein believes that additional metrics are also required.

Creating a road map for data centre sustainability

Svein is a member of the Sustainability Committee at iMasons, an organisation for those responsible for infrastructure.[4] This committee has recently published a sustainability framework,[5] which covers all phases of the life of a data centre from planning right through to decommissioning. Svein suggests that this fills an important gap in sustainability reporting and goal-setting.

“There is currently no standard measure of a ‘sustainable data centre’, nor any kind of scale to measure progress towards sustainability goals. The framework is designed to provide that, across the whole life cycle and all aspects of operation. It also aims to cover all aspects of sustainability. It shows operators their data centre’s location on the sustainability journey. We hope it will provide a road map for them to develop and improve. iMasons is not a certification agency, but it wants to empower the industry by providing a framework that will help companies to move towards a shared vision of a sustainable data centre. We want to encourage data centre operators to continue to improve performance and sustainability, not to stand still once they have reached an initial goal.”