“Power market reforms and rapid growth in wind and solar power have created unprecedented opportunities for China’s internet giants to procure clean energy. The data center sector can and should play a leading role in China’s energy transition from heavy reliance on coal to renewable energy,” said Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Ye Ruiqi.
Data centers are networks of computer servers that host our emails, photos, videos, online transactions and more. Electricity consumption from China’s data center industry is on track to jump by two thirds over the next five years. By 2023, the sector is projected to consume 267 TWh of electricity, more than Australia’s total 2018 electricity consumption. China’s data center industry is currently powered 73% by coal.
The report outlines two scenarios for future data center sector emissions from 2019 to 2023. If the data center sector’s renewable energy intake remains steady at 23%, CO2 emissions from the industry are projected to reach 163 million tonnes by 2023. However, if the sector’s renewable energy intake increases to 30%, 16 million tonnes of carbon emissions can be avoided by 2023, equal to the emissions from roughly 10 million round-trip transatlantic flights.
Researchers identified three pathways for data center companies to increase their renewable energy uptake – by building or investing in renewable projects, procuring clean power directly from renewable energy generators, and purchasing green power certificates. As China’s power market reforms deepen, a growing number of procurement mechanisms will become available.
“While China’s data center industry has made significant improvements in terms of energy efficiency, the industry’s massive carbon footprint is proof that much more action is needed to increase reliance on clean energy sources. There is a clear path toward renewable energy-powered data centers in China and an opportunity for innovative companies to lead the way,” said Ye.