Why African Data Centres Need To Use Renewable Energy

Africa stands at the dawn of a new era in the rollout of multi-tenant carrier neutral data centres with investment activity starting to reach fever pitch.   There is an opportunity for African data centre operators to steer the industry down a ‘Green’ path. 

Data centres account for 200 TWh yr–1, or around 1% of total global electricity demandWhile their energy usage has been stable in recent years as efficiencies increase, it may grow to between 15–30% of electricity consumption in some countries by 2030.   

Data centres contribute around 0.3% to overall carbon emissions, whereas the information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem as a whole — under a sweeping definition that encompasses personal digital devices, mobile-phone networks and televisions — accounts for more than 2% of global emissions. That puts ICT’s carbon footprint on a par with the aviation industry’s emissions from fuel.  

The African data centre market is small by Global standards but is growing fast.   There is an opportunity for African DC operators to put in place best practise as data centres are rolled out.  A technology leapfrog as happened with mobile is what can and should be aspired to. 

African DC operators should adhere to the strict guidelines advocated by the industry to reduce the environmental impact of data centres.  These include : 

  • Reducing cooling power consumption through better design and compliance with environmental standards – ISO 14001 (environment) and ISO 50001 (energy management) to name two;   
  • Closely monitoring (through DCIM) all key indicators – PUE, CUE, WUE and Carbon Footprint.  
  • Incorporating smart cooling technology – such as evaporative cooling, smart temperature and lighting controls (controlled by AI) as well as operating more efficient servers inside the data centres.   

African data centres should also steer clear of cryptocurrency mining activities due to their high carbon footprint.  Leave that to the Nordics.  

Electric vehicles (EV) have a high carbon footprint created in the manufacturing process.  This needs to be, and is being, reduced.  EV’s come into their own through zero emissions once operational.  Data centres need to aspire to do the same.  The hyper-scalers who are sitting on cash can afford to roll out massive solar farms and so are ahead of the game – but the rest of the industry needs to catch up.  

In Africa, where utility power is unreliable, data centres are forced to use diesel generators excessively.   It thus behoves all African data centre operators to invest in solar farms and other renewable sources as their primary power source.  

The renewable industry needs to continue to move fast to lowering the cost of generation and storage and so be competitive with fossil fuel sources – if we are to save the planet.  

ONIX Data Centre in Accra is powered by a solar farm and, while currently not the sole source of power, there are plans to make the data centre independent of the electricity grid once solar storage costs justify.  ONIX is setting the standard in Green Data Centres in Africa.  


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