Development Prospects of China's Data Centres within the context of Carbon Neutrality

Interview with
Zhigang Luo, Deputy Chairman of CECS Big Data Working Committee, a prominent data centre industry expert

Electricity Consumption and Carbon Emissions of China's Data Centre Industry

One of the central problems of our time is the high energy demand. Especially in metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the enormous energy consumption is hampering the development of data centres as well as the creation of an energy-saving society. Faced with the contradictions between strong demand for data capabilities and strict requirements for "dual control" of energy consumption, it is increasingly difficult to obtain indicators for new data centres. To achieve the national dual target, low-carbon and even "carbon neutral" data centres will be developed in the future.

It is foreseeable that in 2025, CO₂ emissions of China's data centres will reach a carbon peak ahead of schedule, with the peak being controlled at about 100 million tons. Many specific measurements are expected to be carried out, such as source reduction, natural cooling technology, ultra-high-efficiency equipment, intelligent technology, multi-station integration technology, and comprehensive energy utilisation technology of substation and energy storage.

"Carbon Neutral" Positioning for Data Centres

To realise carbon neutrality in data centres, various low-carbon technologies and business model innovations must be incorporated, including:

(1) Planning of Data Centres

During the planning of data centres, renewable resources such as the wind, hydropower, geothermal heat, as well as the regional power generation and heating, LNG system cooling energy and other external environmental resources should be utilised to the greatest possible extent.

(2) Construction and Operation of Data Centres

Environmentally friendly and low-carbon concepts are essential for the construction and operation of data centres. They make it possible to continuously optimise the energy efficiency and emission reduction of IT equipment, cooling systems, power supply systems and the building itself. For this, it is also important to make systems for energy storage and waste heat recovery mandatory.

(3) Energy Consumption Systems of Data Centres

Of course fossil energy is not excluded in the energy consumption system of data centres. Data centres can invest in the construction of centralised and distributed renewable power generation systems such as photovoltaic power generation, wind power and hydropower. The centres should also make full use of power trading and carbon trading. By acquiring clean renewable energy and green power certificates such as photovoltaic power generation, wind power and hydropower through the electricity and green certificate trading system, data centres can increase the utilisation rate of green power. With the measurements of carbon quota trading, carbon voluntary emission reduction certification trading and so on, data centres can offset the carbon emissions from the use of fossil fuels.

An Overview of Energy-saving and Emission Reduction Technologies for Data Centres amid Carbon Neutrality

With the scale of data centres expanding day by day, local energy markets and power grids are encountering greater pressure. In this context, rigid demand on green data centres is apparent. The clear regulations on reducing the PUE value in metropolises and the short supply is also pushing the green developments of data centres. In terms of green developments, measurements mainly include adopting renewable energy and improving energy efficiency.

The four major challenges data centres nowadays are facing regarding energy conservation and emission reduction are:

1) Robust construction demands, increasingly stringent local policies and challenges due to reduced supply will directly lead to the failure of new data centres to pass the performance evaluation and obtain legal approvals from the government for the next step of data centre construction.

2) The complexity of the customer's business brings more difficulties in choosing a technical framework and energy-saving solutions, leading to high data centre construction costs, investment losses, high fines or forced rectification works due to sub-standard energy efficiency.

3) The low utilisation efficiency of external power resources will directly lead to low power yield and low out-of-box rate of the data centre. Some areas with data centres to be deployed cannot even provide sufficient water resources, directly leading to the construction failure of data centres. In this situation, re-evaluation of the options and substantial cost rises as well as a serious lag in the construction progress are inevitable.

4) The power density of a single cabinet brought about by the computing power gains of IT equipment keeps increasing, directly leading to the difficulties of eliminating hot spots in the data centre and more risks of serious downtime.

Data centre operators need to continuously work on their technical management. They should review and implement energy-saving and emission-reducing technologies and thus realise green data centres. The goal of "climate neutrality" also applies to future facilities.

The following technologies for energy saving and emission reduction can be used:

Overall energy-saving technology of data centres

  • Fully pre-fabricated modular data centre technology
  • Overall architecture using low PUE technology with high reliability and high availability


Electrical energy-saving technology of data centres


Cooling energy-saving technology of data centres

  • High temperature chilled water air conditioning technology
  • Fluorine pump technology
  • Multi-connected air-conditioning technology
  • Phase change cold storage technology
  • Cold plate liquid cooling technology
  • Immersion liquid cooling technology
  • Indirect evaporative cooling technology with efficient use of natural cooling sources
  • AI energy-saving auto-control technology


Resource recovery technology of data centres

  • Sewage recycling technology
  • Heat recovery technology, etc.


Other energy-saving technologies

  • Intelligent lighting system
  • Photovoltaic power generation
  • IT server energy saving technology
  • Quantum computers
  • Hydrogen fuel cells, etc.

Overall Development Strategies of China's Data Centres within the context of Carbon Neutrality

The data centre industry should proactively participate in establishing green power trading schemes. Under current national policies and the power market plan, data centres should conduct the design, deployment and implementation of the green electricity certification market system and the trade of scertifications and continuously expand the scale of green electricity participation in the market.

In the course of the site selection and development of data centres, according to the national renewable energy supply-side development situation, priority should be given to areas with relatively complete renewable energy supply-side infrastructure for data centre setups.

In the course of design and construction, data centres should analyse end-users' requirements, prioritise the deployment of solutions and technology mode that can maximise efficiency of electric energy use, and explore technologies with renewable energy used for energy storage and emergency energy supply.

Within the context of long-term operations, data centres should strengthen the carbon asset management and increase the share of renewable energy procurement. By way of planned energy-saving renovations, the energy efficiency utilisation of the operational data centres should be further improved.