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Uptime Institute predicts 2024 will see datacentre operators start row back on net-zero commitments

Datacentre resiliency think tank Uptime Insitute predicts 2024 will mark the start of a testing time for operators when it comes to delivering on their net-zero commitments

The Uptime Institute has predicted that 2024 will see many organisations forced to backtrack on their publicly stated net-zero goals, as their sustainability efforts struggle to keep pace with rising regulatory scrutiny.

The prediction is one of several shared by the datacentre resiliency think tank in a 24-page report that seeks to shine a light on the trends it thinks will shape the growth and development of the digital infrastructure sector over the coming year.

Specifically, Uptime predicts that 2024 will mark the start of a “challenging period” for the datacentre sector that is set to last until 2030, as “organisations struggle to meet sustainability goals and reporting requirements, battle with regulators (and even some partners), and strive to align their corporate goals with wide sustainability objectives”.

Regulators continue to up their scrutiny on the sector as a whole, and are embarking on enforcement action. Incoming initiatives, such as the European Union’s (EU’s) Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, will heap pressure on large companies and listed firms in most major economies to report their carbon emissions and the climate-related risks their businesses face, for example.

There is also the prospect of the EU Energy Efficiency Directive coming into force in due course, which will require operators to report in greater detail the energy efficiency of their IT and networking equipment.  

And organisations that struggle to meet the requirements of these new directives and regulations may find themselves publicly outed for failing to do so. As an example, the Uptime Institute points to the decision of the United Nations-backed Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to remove Amazon Web Services’ parent company from its list of companies committed to tackling climate change.

Amazon had previously committed in 2019 to eliminating or offsetting all of its carbon emissions by 2040, but it was axed from the SBTi list of committed companies in August 2023 because it failed to validate its net-zero emissions target.

Less transparency expected

Operators will find it “harder and more expensive” to maintain their sustainability commitments and work towards their publicly stated net-zero goals, Uptime continued, meaning some may be forced to row back on their commitments, or become less transparent about the progress they are making.

“Meeting tougher public goals will not be easy for those operating critical infrastructure,” said Uptime. “The greater use of more power-hungry software and processors, the lack of renewable energy availability in the power grid, and the growing resiliency requirements in the face of climate change, for example, will make it tougher to reduce carbon emissions.”

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This may prompt some operators to take steps to become less forthcoming in their reporting of various sustainability metrics, in that they will only disclose the “requisite information”, said Uptime, whereas the situation may spur on others to do things differently.

“The sector may be at an inflection point,” it said. “The pressures associated with compliance may also encourage the widespread adoption of more aggressive and thoughtful sustainability strategies, as well as encourage progressive and effective investment.”

Several other industry-specific complicating factors will continue to make it difficult for operators to record and report their carbon emissions in a timely and accurate manner, the report said.

Chief among them is that demand for datacentre compute capacity continues to rise, which has an impact on the amounts of power facilities use, which means operators must do more to reduce their overall energy use. Actions they can take on that front could include implementing better workload management protocols and finding ways to use their compute resources better.

“Datacentre footprint and power use is expected to increase significantly, with some predicting energy use to double or more beyond 2030,” the report added. “This will strain power grids and supply chains, render carbon emissions targets yet more difficult to meet, and bring digital infrastructure operators into the crosshairs of regulators, environmental monitoring groups and campaigners.”

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