Alibaba Takes Lead in China’s Quest for Greener Data Centers
With a population of 1.37 billion people, China consumes an incredible amount of energy. China’s data centers are responsible for much of this energy consumption, with estimates placing Chinese data center electricity usage above that of Greece and Hungary together.
Unsurprisingly, the proliferation of data centers in China is having a huge impact on the environment. The coal used to generate China’s electricity increases global warming, and the massive amount of water needed to cool these data centers is leading to further water shortages across China.
In light of these potentially environmentally-devastating side effects, Alibaba Group has worked to create a data center that cools itself using natural water bodies. The giant e-commerce corporation has been able to eliminate the usage of mechanical chillers at its data center on Qiandao Lake in Hangzhou during most of the year, and it has done so in a way that minimizes the impact on the lake. The data center’s technicians also closely monitor servers and activate cooling only when required. Alibaba claims that it has reduced its data center’s energy usage by 80 percent.
Alibaba is at the forefront of a movement to make China’s data centers cleaner. In 2915, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology created the country’s first initiative to promote green data centers with 84 participants including factories, banks and telecommunications firms. Although the country overall has not placed caps on data center electricity and water consumption, certain cities such as Beijing have enacted their own standards, forcing some companies to close their operations.
Many data center operators are independently following Alibaba’s lead and realizing the environmental and financial benefits of creating greener data centers. One engineer representing a large Chinese data company noted that energy costs make up more than 50 percent of all operating costs for China’s data centers. His company has employed various workarounds to decrease electricity and water usage such as relocating data centers to colder climates and utilizing the air in winter to cool servers without water.
White environmental critics still believe that Chinese firms can and should do more, companies like Alibaba are leading the path for greener data centers across China.