A sustainable data center? Absolutely.

The amount of data processed in data centers has increased exponentially in recent years. Despite this enormous growth, the power consumption of data centers worldwide has been stable for decades. This is only possible thanks to investments in sustainable data centers.

Just how sustainable is a data center? And what is the data center market doing to offer the most sustainable solutions possible – both now and in the future?

More and more data is being generated worldwide and it must be accessible from anywhere. This steadily increases the demand for IT capacity. Data centers are a crucial part of this growing IT landscape. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), data centers around the world consumed the same proportion of global energy in 2020 as in 2010 (approximately 1%). This is remarkable because in that ten-year period, the number of internet users doubled and internet traffic increased by a factor of 15. The amount of data processed in data centers has also increased exponentially. Despite this enormous growth, the power consumption of data centers has remained stable worldwide for decades. This is only possible thanks to continuous investments in energy savings at these data centers. Sustainability remains one of the key priorities for NorthC and we have committed to operating fully CO2-neutral by 2030. This means that customers and partners using our data centers can also operate more sustainably. We also encourage our suppliers to improve sustainability. In this way, we help to sustain the entire chain, from supplier to end customer. To achieve all this, we must increasingly use energy efficiently and are taking concrete steps in this direction. Here are four important sustainability pillars that NorthC is focusing on:


Sustainable Data Center with Green Hydrogen

The use of (green) hydrogen (H2) is a promising form of energy transport. This not only allows data centers to reduce their CO2 footprint, but also relieves the heavily congested power grid. Hydrogen technology is still under development, but we have already taken the first steps in our new sustainable data center in Groningen. It is one of the first data centers in the world to use fuel cells based on green hydrogen for its emergency power supply. This results in a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions. This 500KW hydrogen cell module saves tens of thousands of liters of diesel per year. This amount of diesel would produce more than 39,000 kilos (39 tons) of CO2 if burned. In addition, these hydrogen cells have a very long lifespan of 20 years or more. For existing diesel generators, we are investigating whether it is possible and economically feasible to make them suitable for hydrogen. This is less efficient than hydrogen cells that directly convert H2 into electrical energy, but still results in a significant reduction of more than 80% in emissions. We plan to apply these hydrogen modules in our other data centers in the future.


Data Centers on Green Energy

Our data centers run on 100% green energy. However, our intention is to focus more strongly on self-sufficient facilities in the coming years, which is why we are also investing in the production of sustainable energy. To this end, we will further expand the use of solar and wind energy and green hydrogen. We are also exploring the possibility of producing green hydrogen ourselves with the help of solar and wind energy generated on site. This will allow us to supply our backup power systems with energy. This results in a completely green chain, with as little energy lost as possible and all resources being used as efficiently as possible. The ‘horizon goal’ is to start delivering green energy to the power grid when we generate more power than we need ourselves. Given the developments in the energy market, this is an essential step for our service in the future.


Residual heat from the data center

Computer systems generate heat and must be cooled to function optimally. This is one of the most important tasks of a data center. After cooling, waste heat remains. It’s obviously a waste to let this heat go to waste; it’s much more sustainable to use this energy productively. That’s why we use heat generated in our data centers to heat buildings in the area. In Eindhoven, we are connected to the heat network of the High Tech Campus, where we provide other companies on the campus with heat. In exchange, we get cold back, which we can use to cool the equipment in our data center. In Aalsmeer, our waste heat warms a children’s center, a nursery, and a sports complex including a swimming pool. The largest waste heat project we have participated in so far is Rotterdam Schiebroek. In the coming years, up to 10,000 households will be partially heated by waste heat from our data center in Rotterdam Zestienhoven. All of our new data centers are prepared for exchanging heat. Whenever a waste heat initiative is set up near one of our data centers, we are ready to participate.


Modularly built data centers

We build all of our new data centers using a modular concept. This means that spaces, components, and systems are only put in place or operational when they are actually going to be used. This approach results in a significant lower energy consumption, because lighting, power supplies, cooling, monitoring systems, etc. only consume energy when it’s really necessary. Sensors that activate lighting only when people are present and replacing equipment with newer, more energy-efficient versions help us achieve our sustainability goals. Of course, we will continuously look for even more improvements in our buildings.

Based on these four pillars, we are constantly working to improve our sustainability. We keep looking for ways to reduce our energy consumption even more and to make a contribution to the liveability of our world. We do that in collaboration with our partners and customers. We are constantly working on new possibilities and innovations and as a result, we’re leading the market in sustainability.