1 October 21

Blue ocean, white snow, green internet

“Digital infrastructure is central to our lives (even if we don’t all realise it): it is what the internet runs on. But it is demanding more energy – particularly data centres, where the internet ‘lives’. At D9, we are investing to improve digital infrastructure around the world, but in a green and clean way.”  Triple Point’s Andre Karihaloo explores the growing demand to invest in a new generation of data centres that are powered by renewable energy, while still providing access to the global fabric of interconnectivity through subsea fibre.

The internet lives in data centres

98% of all international internet data travels through subsea fibre. It is the backbone of the internet. But if subsea is the backbone, then data centres are the brain. They are where the world’s data is stored: websites, videos, music. They are where the internet lives.

Increasingly, data centres are also where the huge amounts of data we are creating is processed. Think of the size of the data sets driving research into vaccine trials, autonomous cars, and climate change. Through the analysis of data, humanity makes ground-breaking innovations and extraordinary scientific discoveries, leading to societal improvements for billions of people. This is why digital infrastructure and data centres form an integral part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, helping to improve social mobility and reduce poverty.

But the societal benefits of data centres need to be weighed against their environmental impacts. Worldwide, data centres consume 2% of electricity and contribute 2% to CO2 emissions. The main issue is that servers in data centres generate a lot of heat, which has to be removed. This cooling typically consumes 25% of a data centre’s energy – or closer to 40% when processing large data sets. But many data centres are located in climates that require almost constant cooling, and lots of power. What’s more, the electricity used by most of the world's data centres comes from coal, gas and oil, leading to high emissions.

It is more efficient to export data than renewable energy

To reduce the energy used and emissions created by the data centre industry, Digital 9 Infrastructure plc (D9) is investing in ultra-efficient, 100% renewable-energy powered Nordic data centres. Our focus is on shifting the energy-intensive processing of these huge and growing data sets to the Nordics, which have abundant green power, free cooling – and the lowest power prices in Europe.

The Nordics generate a lot of renewable power – the highest proportion in the world – with Sweden generating 65% of its electricity from renewables, Norway 90%, and Iceland 100%. Verne Global, one of D9’s portfolio companies, is a leading Nordic data centre platform, based in Iceland, powered entirely by renewable, baseload hydroelectric and geothermal electricity.

The efficiency of data centres is often described by their PUE metric (Power Usage Effectiveness). It’s far easier to achieve low (better) PUE values in colder climates, where the outside air can do most of the cooling work. Verne Global is one of the most efficient in Europe, with a PUE of 1.18, benefiting from 365 days a year of free cooling. This means that data centres located in the Nordics have a natural geographical advantage in efficiency. This is the power of the “negawatt” – the energy saved by operating more efficiently.

Subsea fibre demands far less power than data centres. It makes better environmental sense to bring the subsea cables to areas with green, clean data centres. New York University is leading a research initiative to analyse precisely this, in collaboration with the SubOptic Foundation. Through our portfolio company Aqua Comms, which owns and operates 20,000 km of subsea fibre, D9 can bring the global fabric of interconnectivity to green data centres.

The path forward

The data centre industry now has clearly defined targets. The Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance (SDIA), an industry body which Triple Point are members of on behalf of D9, has developed a Sustainable Digital Infrastructure roadmap. Alliance members are committed to supporting a range of targets running through to 2030, from emissions and energy consumption to electronic waste and water consumption. Further self-regulation has also emerged through the Climate Neutral Data Centre Operator Pact (CNDCP) which is a collection of 75 data centre operators and trade associations, all of which have committed to meeting targets for energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, and heat recovery. D9 has aligned its data centre analysis with the goals of this Pact.

The global demand for fast, reliable internet access is driving rapid growth in investment. In 2020, almost $400 billion was spent on digital infrastructure – across fibre, data centres and wireless networks. We will need to invest even more every year to prepare it for the future. But to reduce emissions and energy consumption, we need to make sure that more of the investment is directed into the greenest and cleanest forms of digital infrastructure.

Digital 9 Infrastructure Plc (D9): critical infrastructure for our connected world

  • By investing in a portfolio of critical Digital Infrastructure assets in subsea and terrestrial fibre, wireless networks and data centres, D9 aims to deliver sustainable income and capital growth for investors
  • D9 owns two digital infrastructure platforms:
    • Aqua Comms with 20,000 km of subsea fibre connectivity – the backbone of the internet
    • Verne Global, the leading Icelandic data centre platform and one of Europe’s most efficient, with a PUE of 1.18 and 100% powered by renewable electricity
  • In June, D9 announced a new subsea and terrestrial fibre system, EMIC-1, in partnership with large tech, between Europe, the Middle East and India, extending D9’s network by 10,000 km, improving connectivity to Asia, the continent with the fastest internet demand growth.
  • The 9 in D9 comes from the UN Sustainable Development Goal 9, which aims to improve connectivity globally and reduce the digital divide, in an environmentally sustainable manner.
  • The D9 team has over $250 billion of digital infrastructure investment and management expertise.

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This article was written by Andre Karihaloo, Investment Director for Digital 9 Infrastructure plc.