Compatible with a Sustainable Future

Understanding Environmental Challenges

CyrusOne knows that the data centers we build today will be serving our customers for decades and that sustainability challenges will evolve over time.  If we concentrate on solving yesterday’s problems, we will be locking ourselves into data center designs and systems that may be ill suited for the environmental challenges of the future.

There are three main trends we consider when building data centers to be compatible with a sustainable future: the growth of cloud computing, increasing water scarcity in much of the world, and the greening of the electrical grid.

Growth of Cloud Computing

The future of computing is in cloud computing and massive data centers, due to the great efficiencies they provide.  Our goal is to be able to build efficient data centers quickly so that we can achieve those efficiencies sooner, rather than later.

Future of Water Risk

Water has long been thought of as free or cheap, especially when compared to electricity.  However, water demand is increasing over time, and water scarcity is also growing in many places, leading to a marked increase in water risk for many parts of the world.  It is becoming more and more apparent that evaporating water to save energy isn’t actually free — it draws upon a precious and dwindling resource.  If we build for the abundant water of the past, we expose ourselves to the risk of a water-scarce future.  With the vital importance of cooling to our facilities, we know that if we lock ourselves into water-consuming cooling today, we commit to consuming water in the future, even in locations where water risk is increasing.

Using the World Resources Institute Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, we examine the water risk for every watershed in which we operate a data center, considering both the current risk and the projected risk for 2030 and 2040.  We have found that the water risk at some of our locations is expected to improve, but most locations will likely face higher water scarcity in the future.  With this in mind, all of our new facilities are designed for Zero Water Consumption Cooling.

To help our customers achieve their goals, we provide transparency on the current and future water risk of each location we operate.

Future of Grid Greening

As renewable and low-carbon energy becomes more prevalent, the sustainability of the electrical grid is improving over time.  Our focus is on the continuing improvement of the grid’s greenhouse gas intensity and water intensity.  Understanding these trends means that we need to build our data centers for the grid of tomorrow, rather than that of yesterday.

The ongoing improvement in grid carbon intensity means we should avoid building data centers that rely on combustion for primary operation (such as natural gas-fired heaters and chillers).  Even if there are some savings today, our data centers are built to last. Electrical heating and cooling will serve us well into the future, allowing us to take advantage of the greening grid.

The generation of electricity for the grid using thermoelectric power plants (such as natural gas, oil, coal, and nuclear plants) consumes water.  However, newer thermoelectric power plants are consuming less water, and most renewable technologies consume no water.  With the reduction of water consumption in electrical generation over time, we should avoid building data centers today that rely on evaporating water for cooling.  Even if there is some overall net water savings gained from current water cooling technology over the water used by grid electrical generation in some regions, locking our cooling infrastructure into a dependence on large amounts of water means that we can’t take advantage of these future grid improvements, leading to higher water use in the long run.

Even with market-based carbon reduction instruments like RECs and VPPAs, the location-based emission factor of the grid is still an important aspect of greenhouse gas inventories.  As a Strategic Partner we provide the carbon intensity of each of our data centers to give our customers the information needed to choose locations that help meet their sustainability goals.