In our minds, the Internet is this magical place. Very few of us understand how it really works. But in fact the WWW is not driven by likes, shares and memes, but by routers, switches, servers and Co. All of this requires electricity - which today often does not come from renewable sources. That means: liking a celebrity picture, watching a cat video and commenting on a presidential tweet can cause climate-damaging CO2. But does that also mean that we have to stop clicking, liking, posting if we want to do something good for the environment? We say: nope.
We at E.ON want to make the Internet greener instead of smaller. Not to mention the Internet as a search factor, the network and digitization have brought a lot in recent years that have positively changed all of our lives. And a lot more will follow in the future (keyword: AI and IoT). We therefore believe that instead of switching off, we have to rethink!
And this can be done by supplying data centers with green electricity, using the waste heat from the centers and covering the growing hunger for energy in the long term. It’s like this:
Not only the new XY-Phone or the Ultra-Super-Mega-HD laptop that is used for surfing needs energy, but above all the processing of the data. The whole thing happens in data centers. This is where the magic happens! These are responsible for almost 30 percent of the Internet's energy requirements. In the estimated over 8 million server farms that are spread all over the world, carrots are not grown, but host computers are housed that process, store and transmit data. You are the brain of the internet.
With the Paris Climate Agreement, countries of the world agreed to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. While every sector in every country must contribute to making its energy world climate-friendly and to reducing energy consumption, the global IT sector and its data centers are facing a dramatic increase in energy consumption
This issue has so far received little attention in the public debate. When streaming an exciting TV series, who thinks about how much energy is needed for servers to call up the next episode? Or even how much CO2 emissions are associated with it?
Institute for Future Energy Customer Needs and Behavior (FCN) at the E.ON Energy Research Center at the RWTH Aachen.
Tim Höfer, Sebastian Bierwirt and Reinhard Medlener.
Data centres not only process and store data, they can also be a modern heating system. Today, more than two million servers in German data centres convert around 13 billion kWh of electricity into heat. However, this energy can released into the environment unused. Only 19 percent of data centres use parts of their waste heat, mostly in their own buildings for heating and hot water.
According to the study, up to 8TWh of waste heat will be available by 2025. There is enormous potential here for the sustainable use of this energy. Data centres can supply heat to housing estates and entire city districts. This would be a clear and successful example of coupling electricity and heat sectors.
In fact, the framework conditions are difficult for data centre operators.
Suitable consumers for the heat are often lacking.
There is usually no connection to local heating networks.
Heat network operators first want to utilise their own facilities and are not interested in purchasing additional heat.
The sale of heat is not the core business of the operators.
In this context, E.ON supports the demand of the industry association Bitkom to make waste heat more economically attractive. The legal framework should be designed in such a way that the use of waste heat is cheaper than the use of primary energy.
Learn more about how waste energy is used in our project ectogrid.
With a power consumption of more than 2 trillion kilowatt hours, the entire IT sector today ranks third among the world's largest energy consumers, directly behind China and the US, ahead of Russia. Within the IT sector, data centers are becoming more important as energy consumers. If we look at the power consumption of data centres alone, you would be in sixth place with a share of 8 to 10 percent. The French non-profit organization The Shift Project estimates that the entire area of information and communications technology accounts for around 3.7 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. In a world where we are more online than offline, this is more than twice as much as in civil aviation.
Growth will continue and is virtually impossible to quantify. In 2017, Greenpeace estimated in its Clicking Clean study that data centres could account for around 13 percent of global energy demand in 2030. According to new data, The Shift Project assumes that we have already reached 10 percent today. There are even estimates that data centres will consume more than 2,000 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity worldwide in 2030, around 400 percent of current demand. Data centres are like the new SUVs of the energy world.
In Germany alone, computers, electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets, televisions, and communication networks and data centres barely visible to the individual now consume 47 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. There are more than 53,000 data centres with over 2 million physical servers. A server consumes on average slightly less than 2 MWh/a. In 2017, they accounted for around 13.2 billion kWh nationwide - similar to the consumption of the entire city of Berlin with its almost 4 million inhabitants.
What impact will the introduction of the 5G standard have on the energy consumption of data centres? E.ON has commissioned RWTH Aachen University to estimate this growth in a study. There are three important aspects for E.ON here:
To what extent will 5G increase the energy demand with the new applications?
To what extent will the networks have to be made fit for further growth?
What potential does the waste heat generated in data centers offer?
It is certain that the growth of the data centre industry will continue. 5G plays an important role here.
Thanks to 5G, new industries and services are emerging. With 5G, companies will create their own communication worlds and network everything with each other at headquarters or in production. Autonomous driving on road and rail as well as flying taxis will become reality. On farms, cows are equipped with vital trackers and networked with milk cans. Downloads will soon be a thing of the past, everything will be available in real time.
The 5G introduction will have a direct impact on electricity consumption and will probably also change the structure of the data center landscape.
For real-time data analysis, so-called edge computing comes with a large number of small data centres. They will have an output of up to 5 kW, offer the lowest latency times and will be located along roads, for example, to enable autonomous driving.
Campus data centres, which network an area with various applications, have an output of up to 20 kW.
Decentralized Edge Cloud data centres, where data is passed on, analysed and stored. They start from 100 kW connected load.
Finally, hyperscale data centres, which are designed with 10 MW and more.
E.ON assumes that 5G will establish itself on a broad front in Germany and internationally.
This will involve a significantly larger volume of data, which is likely to be stored in the cloud. This will increase the demand for electricity in large data centres.
From research, studies and calculations, RWTH Aachen University has determined a maximum value of 3.8 terawatt hours of electricity, which will be generated by 5G applications in data centres alone. This is an elusive figure. For comparison: That would be enough electricity to supply all 2.5 million people in the cities of Cologne, Düsseldorf and Dortmund. RWTH has committed itself to a bandwidth that has a lower end of 2.6 TWh. Experience from the past shows, however, that even maximum estimates have always been outbid by reality.
This additional demand for energy fits into the forthcoming growth of data centres as a whole. For 2025, the Institute forecasts growth in electricity consumption from more than 13 billion kWh at present to 19 billion kWh in the end. Just under 20 percent of this is accounted for by the 5G standard.
How a "green" data center can work in practice can be seen in Bällstaberg in the south of Stockholm. Here, E.ON developed a sustainable data centre together with Binero Group AB, a Swedish provider of digital infrastructure. The focus was not only on the challenge of making the internet "greener". Companies and society should also benefit from this. The focus of development was therefore on energy-efficient technologies and cooling systems as well as energy recovery. E.ON supplied the corresponding solutions.
Binero Group also "recycles" the excess waste heat from its data centre. This is fed into E.ON's local district heating network. In this way, Binero Group saves energy and at the same time supports the local community. Fully developed, the site can provide Vallentuna with one third of its heating requirement.
The new data centre has two separate closed-circuit systems each for energy supply and cooling. They are designed in such a way that they can handle the entire IT load individually. This protects against failures and makes maintenance easier.
The system obtains the necessary energy from regional networks. They are also equipped with a modular uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The conversion from high to low voltage takes place on site on the data center's premises, which enables large power resources. The energy is 100 percent sustainable and comes from renewable sources such as wind power.
Data centres use a massive amount of energy and often have a negative environmental impact. We saw an opportunity to implement a unique and sustainable solution with Binero Group by developing a new type of data centre in Bällstaberg.
Not only the future development, but also the current boom of data centres poses great challenges for power grids. This applies in particular to the greater Frankfurt area, the data centre capital. The proximity to the world’s leading internet exchange point there, De-Cix, is regarded as a major locational advantage. No other German city has more data centres. Frankfurt exceeded the limit of 600,000 square metres of operated data centre space in the course of 2019. That is more than 100 football pitches. The annual investment sums in data centres currently amount to more than 350million euros per year.
A particularly large number of data centres are located as close as possible to the data account point in and around Frankfurt. With Süwag network subsidiary Syna, E.ON operates a large part of the networks around Frankfurt, in the Main-Taunus district and in the Hoch-Taunus district. In order to supply this region with energy and to cover enough capacity for the data centres currently under construction in the region, Syna in Sossenheim commissioned a transformer station with two transformers, each with a capacity of 80 MVA, in June. A large part of the power is used to supply data centers in the immediate vicinity. For comparison, 80 MVA can supply a city with approx. 80,000 inhabitants.
However, this does not cover the future demand. Regional network operators in the boom region are already reaching their limits today. Syna is currently planning extensive measures in its networks in order to be able to meet the energy requirements of data centres and other customers in the future.
The growth of the data centre industry is important for the economies in Germany and Europe. The internet is the core of our modern society, a decisive economic factor and driver for digital transformation. Data is the fuel for further digitization.
In Germany, the industry directly and indirectly offers more than 200,000 jobs and generates an annual turnover of 100,000 billion euros. Data centres are the factories of the 21st century. That's why E.ON wants to accompany the growth of data centres and help make the internet as green as possible.
E.ON is making a start with the promise of securing further digitization in Germany. E.ON wants to be the energy company that supplies energy for the digital age.
To this end, we offer data centres various solutions to ensure that their further growth is as climate-neutral as it is possible to be. These include:
Switching the power supply to green energy.
Establishing decentralized generation with the installation of highly efficient combined heat and power units or hydrogen power plants.
Installing of photovoltaics and small wind turbines to support self-sufficiency.
Protecting of the uninterruptible power supply with battery system solutions.
Integrating electricity storage and own generation into E.ON's virtual power plant. The data centre thus participates in the energy market and opens up an additional source of income.
Critical infrastructures are an attractive future market for E.ON. Here, the company thinks European. In 2019, E.ON acquired the Swedish company Coromatic. The acquisition gives E.ON access to state-of-the-art know-how for the increasing digitization of Scandinavia.
With more than 5000 customers, Coromatic is the leading partner for operators of critical infrastructure in Scandinavia. With special solutions for a secure power supply, the company supports data centres in particular in ensuring an uninterrupted power supply.
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Use the spare electricity you generate during the day to power your home at night.