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Data centers 2018. Efficiency gains are not enough: Data center energy consumption continues to rise significantly - Cloud computing boosts growth



In 2018, the power requirements of data centers in Germany rose significantly again. Compared to the previous year, the demand for electrical energy by servers and data centers increased by 6% to 14 billion kWh. This growth is primarily due to the strong expansion of cloud computing capacity in Germany. Substantial new data center capacities were built up, particularly in the greater Frankfurt area, but also at other locations. This development is expected to continue in the future. Trends such as edge computing and artificial intelligence are expected to lead to a significant expansion of data center infrastructures in Germany, Europe and worldwide. If the existing efficiency potentials are not realized , the energy consumption of data centers will continue to rise significantly. These are the results of a recent study by the Borderstep Institute on the development of the energy consumption of data centers in Germany.
Data centers 2018
Cloud computing boosts growth
Efficiency gains are not enough: Data center en-
ergy consumption continues to rise significantly
Dr. Ralph Hintemann
In 2018, the power requirements of data centers in Ger-
many rose significantly again. Compared to the previous
year, the demand for electrical energy by servers and
data centers increased by 6% to 14 billion kWh. This
growth is primarily due to the strong expansion of cloud
computing capacity in Germany. Substantial new data
center capacities were built up, particularly in the
greater Frankfurt area, but also at other locations. This
development is expected to continue in the future.
Trends such as edge computing and artificial intelligence
are expected to lead to a significant expansion of data
center infrastructures in Germany, Europe and world-
wide. If the existing efficiency potentials are not real-
ized, the energy consumption of data centers will con-
tinue to rise significantly.
These are the results of a recent study by the Borderstep
Institute on the development of the energy consumption
of data centers in Germany.
Although there have been very significant improvements
in the energy efficiency of data centers in recent years,
the sharp rise in demand for centralized computing power
has led to a further increase in the energy consumption of
data centers in Germany (Figure 1). In particular, the IT
components (servers, storage and network) will require
8.5 billion kWh of electrical energy in 2018, significantly
more than in 2010 (5.8 billion kWh). The average PUE
value1 of data centers in Germany fell from 1.98 to 1.702
between 2010 and 2018. This increased the efficiency of
the data center infrastructure by 16% on average.
1 The Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) value indicates the ratio of
the annual energy consumption of the entire data center to the an-
nual energy consumption of the data center's IT components.
Figure 1: Energy consumption of servers and data centers in
Germany in the years 2010 to 2018 (Source: Borderstep)
If past trends continue, the energy consumption of data
centers in Germany will continue to rise, increasing by
50% from 2018 to 2030. However, this development is not
inevitable. On the basis of analyses and evaluations of
more than 60 new energy and resource-saving technolo-
gies conducted in the TEMPRO project (Hintemann &
Hinterholzer, 2018), the project partners already imple-
mented some particularly promising technologies as pro-
If the existing technical efficiency potentials are success-
fully exploited, the energy consumption of data centers in
Germany could even be reduced by 25% by 2030 despite
the strong expansion of data center infrastructures, as
was determined in the TEMPRO project.
2 The stand-alone servers, which are normally operated without
their own air conditioning, are not included in the calculation of
these values. Taking the stand-alone servers into account, the av-
erage PUE value in Germany improved from 1.82 in 2010 to 1.63 in
Cloud and edge computing, artificial intelligence: En-
ergy consumption of data centers is expected to con-
tinue to rise
Increasing digitalization and the associated new applica-
tions, such as in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), but
also the significant increase in cloud and edge computing
capacities will lead to a growing demand for data center
Growth in the data center market is driven primarily by
the rapidly increasing use of cloud services. International
cloud computing providers in particular are currently ex-
panding their data center capacity in Germany vigorously.
Because of economies of scale, particularly efficient data
center infrastructure and typically high server utilization,
cloud computing data centers are often significantly more
efficient than traditional data centers (Bizo, 2019;
Shehabi et al., 2018). To date, cloud data centers in Ger-
many have been established in addition to the existing
traditional data centers. Hardly any traditional on-prem-
ise data centers have been dismantled. As a result, de-
spite the higher efficiency of cloud computing solutions,
the overall energy consumption of data centers continues
to rise (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Development of the electricity consumption of data
centers in Germany with share of cloud and edge data centers
from 2010 to 2018 and forecast until 2025 (Source: Borderstep)
In regional terms, the greater Frankfurt area in particular
is benefiting from growth in cloud computing. Investors
often decide to construct new data centers in Frankfurt
because of the good network connection through DE-CIX
and the geographical proximity to the cloud capacities al-
ready available there. This is also confirmed by the ana-
lysts of the real estate service provider CBRE, who cur-
rently see the Frankfurt area as the strongest growing
market in Europe. Most of the additional data center ca-
pacities in Europe are to be built in Frankfurt over the next
two years (CBRE, 2020).
In the future, edge data centers will also have an increas-
ing share of the energy consumption. In 2025, edge data
centers in Germany will probably require 1.5 billion kWh
of electrical energy. With the further expansion of 5G mo-
bile phone networks and edge computing applications in
areas such as Industry 4.0 applications, Autonomous Driv-
ing and Smart City, the energy consumption of edge data
centers is expected to rise to around 4.5 billion kWh/a by
2030. In a scenario with increased expansion of edge com-
puting, calculations in the TEMPRO project even indicate
that edge computing could account for 30% of the energy
consumption of all data centers.
New applications, especially in the field of artificial intelli-
gence, may cause increasing energy consumption in data
centers. AI is increasingly penetrating the human habitat
(Reinsel et al., 2018; Schneider & Ziyal, 2019; Walsh,
2018). AI solutions can be found everywhere, from the liv-
ing room with speech recognition solutions to cloud solu-
tions for deep learning applications to use in critical infra-
structures (e.g. in efficient and sustainable energy net-
work management systems). This development has a va-
riety of environmental impacts. On the one hand, AI offers
many opportunities to make our living and working envi-
ronments more sustainable. There are promising fields of
application, especially for a better understanding of the
Earth, the climate and the environment, as well as in the
areas of agriculture, energy and mobility (Jetzke et al.,
2019). As AI becomes more successful and opens up new
areas of application, its resource requirements increase
as well. Some deep learning applications, simulations and
prognoses in particular demand enormous amounts of
computing power and require large amounts of energy
and resources. Researchers at MIT have calculated that
the training of a single AI application for speech recogni-
tion generates five times as much CO2 as a car during its
entire lifetime (Hao, 2019; Strubell et al., 2019).
Precisely because of the great potential of AI and the pos-
sibility of accessing AI applications from any smartphone
or other intelligent device, it is assumed that the use of AI
technologies will continue to increase dramatically in the
future (Hintemann & Hinterholzer, 2019). In the period
from 2016 to 2021 alone, the workloads for the field of
"Database/Analytics/IOT" in data centers worldwide are
expected to increase by a factor of 2.5 (Cisco, 2018).
International development: Studies paint different
An analysis of the internationally available studies and
publications on the energy consumption of data centers
does not produce a uniform picture. Some researchers as-
sume an enormous increase in energy demand world-
wide. This could increase from 200 billion kWh in 2010 to
2,000 to 3,000 billion kWh by 2030 (Andrae, 2019; Andrae
& Edler, 2015; Belkhir & Elmeligi, 2018; The Shift Project,
2019). In contrast, other studies calculated that the en-
ergy consumption of data centers was practically constant
in recent years (IEA, 2017; Masanet et al., 2020; Shehabi
et al., 2018). For example, the calculations for 2020 range
from 200 billion kWh to 900 billion kWh.
The wide range of the calculation results shows that there
is still a great need for research and information in the
field of the energy consumption of data centers. From
Borderstep's point of view, neither the pessimistic calcu-
lations yielding very high energy consumption nor the op-
timistic calculations resulting in practically constant en-
ergy consumption in recent years are plausible. The pes-
simistic calculations cannot be supported by the estab-
lished figures for hardware sales and equipment in data
centers. The following facts in particular contradict that
the energy consumption of the data centers has remained
practically constant:
A large number of independent studies (CBECI,
2019; Digiconomist, 2019; Kamiya, 2019; Rauchs
et al., 2018) calculated that Bitcoin mining alone
required about 60 to 70 billion kWh of electrical
energy in 2019. If other cryptocurrencies are also
included, it can be assumed that 70 to 90 billion
kWh/a of electrical energy is currently required
for cryptocurrency mining.
Many large and medium-sized new data centers
are being built worldwide, especially by hyper-
scale cloud providers. According to analysts, new
data center construction has been setting rec-
ords for years. At the four data center locations
London, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam alone,
data center capacities have quadrupled. (CBRE,
2020; CBRE Global Corporate Services, 2017).
So far, hardly any capacities at on-premise data
centers have been reduced in Europe. At pre-
sent, a trend can be seen that data is being mi-
grated from the cloud back into the company's
own data center even as hybrid cloud solutions
are seeing increased use (Alffen, 2019; Vanson-
Bourne, 2019).
Since 2010, the number of servers worldwide has
increased by about 50%. The number of server
sales worldwide has increased very significantly,
especially in 2018 and 2019 (Gartner, 2019,
2020; IDC, 2020).
Data center capacities are experiencing particu-
larly strong growth in the Asian market. A cur-
rent report indicates that data center energy
consumption in China alone reached 161 billion
kWh in 2018 (Greenpeace & North China Electric
Power University, 2019).
The European data center market is also growing
very significantly. Various scientific studies as-
sume that the energy consumption of data cen-
ters in Europe has risen markedly (Bio by Deloitte
& Fraunhofer IZM, 2016; Hintemann, 2019; Pra-
kash et al., 2014). The studies indicate that by
2020, the energy consumption of data centers in
Europe will be about 30% higher than in 2010.
According to estimates by the Borderstep Institute, the
energy consumption of data centers worldwide in 2018
was about 400 billion kWh.
Methodology of the study
The present study was conducted as part of the TEMPRO
project—"Total Energy Management for Professional
Data Centers".
According to the underlying classification, data centers
are defined as all self-contained spatial units such as
server cabinets, server rooms, parts of buildings or entire
buildings in which at least three physical servers are in-
stalled. The development of data center capacities is cal-
culated on the basis of the server equipment in the data
centers and other factors. The different performance clas-
ses of servers are also taken into account here.
The calculations are based on a comprehensive structural
model of the data center landscape in Germany, which
was developed at the Borderstep Institute and is updated
annually (Fichter & Hintemann, 2014; Hintemann et al.,
2010; Hintemann, 2017b; Hintemann & Hinterholzer,
2019; Stobbe et al., 2015). In the model, the data centers
in Germany are described in different size classes in terms
of their different server types, storage systems and net-
work infrastructures. The age structure of the servers and
the energy requirements of the various server types in dif-
ferent operating states are also taken into account. Fur-
thermore, the data center infrastructures such as air con-
ditioning, power supply, UPS, etc. are modeled for differ-
ent size and redundancy classes.
The following sources, among others, were used for the
Study "Development of ICT-related electricity de-
mand in Germany"–Study by Fraunhofer IZM and
Borderstep on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Eco-
nomics and Energy (Stobbe et al., 2015).
Current results of studies on the development of the
data center market (CBRE, 2018, 2020; CBRE Global
Corporate Services, 2017; Cisco, 2015, 2016; Gartner,
2020; Hintemann, 2014, 2017a; Hintemann et al.,
2014; Hintemann & Clausen, 2018a, 2018b; Howard-
Healy, 2018)
Data from the market research institute Techconsult
on market development for servers, storage and net-
work components (eanalyzer) (Techconsult, 2014,
2015, 2016)
Data from the market research institutes IDC and
EITO on the market development for servers in Ger-
many and Europe (EITO, 2014; IDC, 2018)
Scientific literature and manufacturer information on
the evolution of the energy consumption of servers,
storage and networking products as well as emerging
data center efficiency technologies.
Alffen, G. (2019, May 20). Cloud-Repatriation—Warum migrieren Un-
ternehmen aus der Public Cloud zurück?
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of communication and computing from 2018 to 2030.
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munication Technology: Trends to 2030. Challenges, 6(1),
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print: Trends to 2040 & recommendations. Journal of
Cleaner Production, 177, 448–463.
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Dr. Ralph Hintemann
Partner and Senior Researcher
Borderstep Institute for Innovation and Sustainability
Clayallee 323
D-14169 Berlin, Germany
Tel. +49.30.306 45-1005
Fax +49.30.306 45-1009
... For example, Brown et al. 21 provided estimates for 2006 and 2011, Hintemann 46 provided estimates for TWh with a range of 2,000-8,253 TWh to allow for effective scaling of the visualization. All estimates can be found in Table S2. ...
... 5 This US focus has been suggested as a reason why data center energy consumption continues to rise in regions outside of the United States, because the United States has benefited from the improved efficiencies of these facilities. 46,82 The rise of cryptocurrency is another trend that affects energy estimates. From 2008 when the initial Bitcoin whitepaper was published, 83 the energy consumption of proof-of-work crypto technologies has become a highly debated topic. ...
... Are the assumptions used for assessing systems in the past still relevant today? A good example of this type of assessment can be found in Hintemann 46 where the results under discussion are compared with other contradictory publications. This highlights factors such as the relevance of cryptocurrency energy consumption for inclusion within the system boundary and how regional growth may have local effects that are not represented in global statistics. ...
Data centers are a critical component of information technology (IT), providing an environment for running computer equipment. Reliance on data centers for everyday activities has brought increased scrutiny of their energy footprint, yet the literature presents a wide range of estimates with challenging-to-validate calculations that make it difficult to rely on their subsequent estimates. In this review, we analyze 258 data center energy estimates from 46 original publications between 2007 and 2021 to assess their reliability by examining the 676 sources used. We show that 31% of sources were from peer-reviewed publications, 38% were from non-peer-reviewed reports, and many lacked clear methodologies and data provenance. We also highlight issues with source availability—there is a reliance on private data from IDC (43%) and Cisco (30%), 11% of sources had broken web links, and 10% were cited with insufficient detail to locate. We make recommendations to 3 groups of stakeholders on how to improve and better understand the literature—end users who make use of data center energy estimates (e.g., journalists), the research community (e.g., academics), and policy makers or regulators within the energy sector (e.g., grid operators).
... Hintemann argued credibly against too pessimistic (e.g. expected and worst case in [3]) and optimistic scenarios for global data center power by listing indisputable global trends such as cryptocurrency mining, relentless speed of data center construction and cloud to hybrid cloud [4]. Moreover, for 2018 Hintemann estimated as much as 400 TWh for global data center electricity use [4]. ...
... expected and worst case in [3]) and optimistic scenarios for global data center power by listing indisputable global trends such as cryptocurrency mining, relentless speed of data center construction and cloud to hybrid cloud [4]. Moreover, for 2018 Hintemann estimated as much as 400 TWh for global data center electricity use [4]. Then it has been argued that the efficiency gains will continue unhindered between 2022 and 2030 thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI) [ [5]. ...
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Technical Report
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Together with a powerful broadband infrastructure, data centers form the backbone of digitization and have a very great influence on current and future economic development. Digitalization may enable an additional potential for value creation in Germany of around €500 billion per year. This is expected as a result of high-performance digital infrastructures and an expanded eco-system of IT service providers, software providers, system houses, digital platforms, content providers, etc. Borderstep investigated the importance of digital infrastructures on behalf of the eco-Association of the Internet Industry Germany (eco-Verband der Internetwirtschaft e.V.). The study concludes that with the digitization of business enterprises, more and more technical knowledge as well as data on customers, suppliers, etc. is being stored in data centers. Data centers have a high sustainability potential and can also make a significant contribution to the transformation of energy systems. To successfully exploit the opportunities of digitalization and to ensure Germany's digital sovereignty, it is necessary to have a strong data center infrastructure in Germany. Like the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Great Britain, the Federal Government should therefore develop an active strategy for securing and expanding data center infrastructures in Germany.
Technical Report
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The growth of the data center market is currently mainly driven by cloud computing and colocation. With a focus on the federal state of Hesse, this report has the following tasks: The role of colocation data centers in the data center market, their economic importance and their energy consumption must be determined with a focus on Hesse. Energy saving potentials for colocation data centers have to be identified and estimated. Hindering and promoting factors of the spread of the essential efficiency technologies must be identified and evaluated specifically for data centres in Germany in general and with a focus on colocation providers. The potential of individual energy efficiency technologies (air cooling, water cooling, fuel cells, waste heat utilisation, etc.) for colocation data centres should be evaluated and measures should be proposed on how the potential can be realised in practice. Hesse is very well placed to remain one of the central European locations for high-performance data centers in the future. On behalf of Hessen Trade & Invest GmbH, Borderstep has investigated whether the growth of colocation space in Frankfurt can lead to a strengthening of the location in an international comparison.
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This work presents an estimation of the global electricity usage that can be ascribed to Communication Technology (CT) between 2010 and 2030. The scope is three scenarios for use and production of consumer devices, communication networks and data centers. Three different scenarios, best, expected, and worst, are set up, which include annual numbers of sold devices, data traffic and electricity intensities/efficiencies. The most significant trend, regardless of scenario, is that the proportion of use-stage electricity by consumer devices will decrease and will be transferred to the networks and data centers. Still, it seems like wireless access networks will not be the main driver for electricity use. The analysis shows that for the worst-case scenario, CT could use as much as 51% of global electricity in 2030. This will happen if not enough improvement in electricity efficiency of wireless access networks and fixed access networks/data centers is possible. However, until 2030, globally-generated renewable electricity is likely to exceed the electricity demand of all networks and data centers. Nevertheless, the present investigation suggests, for the worst-case scenario, that CT electricity usage could contribute up to 23% of the globally released greenhouse gas emissions in 2030.
Technical Report
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While several studies in the recent past have highlighted the role of the Information and Communication technologies (ICT) in mitigating climate change, various studies have also indicated that ICT’s own footprint is expected to increase significantly over the next few years. Hence, the need of efforts from the industry as well as policy makers to implement measures to combat the increasing footprint of ICT becomes eminent. Over the last few years, numerous LCA based methodologies and initiatives have been developed in order to measure and quantify the ICT sector’s footprint and its enabling effect. Although these methodologies have been found to be largely compatible with each other when it comes to assessing ICT's own footprint [6], there is still a lack of transparency and consistency in measuring and reporting the environmental footprint of products, services, networks and companies, which in turn also hinders the objective judgment on the credibility of companies claiming to have done enough in terms of greening their products and corporate activities. As a result, results of environmental impacts of ICT have been seen to vary significantly from one study to another, which impedes the formulation of appropriate policy measures for ICT. Lastly, most of the existing methodologies have not yet been integrated into the ICT-related environmental policy measures. Against this background, this study seeks to perform a quantitative analysis of the current state and an assessment of the future development of the energy consumption of the ICT sector in Europe and identify the most promising options for integrating the methodologies that are applied for measuring GHG emissions and energy footprint of ICT, into concrete policy measures. As overall conclusions of the study, following points can be summarized: - The share of data centres and telecommunication networks in total ICT footprint is expected to increase significantly until 2020, while the total electricity consumption of end-user ICT products is forecasted to stay more or less stable (assuming that forecast growth in the number of devices would be compensated by expected reductions in electricity consumption of individual devices). - There is a lack of policy measures for regulating the energy consumption and GHG emissions of data centres and telecommunication networks, which can partially be attributed to a lack of publicly available data on the energy consumption and GHG emissions of these two sectors. - Existing policy measures do not yet capture all key elements (e.g. use of PCRs, critical reviews) of the methodological framework. Hence, policy measures would require a continuous adaptation of their methodological basis if, for instance the use of PCRs or other important methodological elements (e.g. use of common GHG emission factors, putting higher value to public data bases for generic emission data, GHG of IPCC instead of Kyoto Protocol) are to be made mandatory. Such a step might still not require a revision of framework legislation, but changes in the underlying methodo-logical framework or introduction of a new methodological framework could have a significant effect on the current product-related environment legislation. - Development of harmonized PCRs is more important than developing more detailed methodologies.
In light of the concerted efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) per the so-called Paris Agreement, the Information and Communication Industry (ICT) has received little attention as a significant contributor to GHGE and if anything is often highly praised for enabling efficiencies that help reduce other industry sectors footprint. In this paper, we aim at assessing the global carbon footprint of the overall ICT industry, including the contribution from the main consumer devices, the data centers and communication networks, and compare it with the to the total worldwide GHGE. We conduct a detailed and rigorous analysis of the ICT global carbon footprint, including both the production and the operational energy of ICT devices, as well as the operational energy for the supporting ICT infrastructure. We then compare this contribution to the global 2016-level GHGE. We have found that, if unchecked, ICT GHGE relative contribution could grow from roughly 1–1.6% in 2007 to exceed 14% of the 2016-level worldwide GHGE by 2040, accounting for more than half of the current relative contribution of the whole transportation sector. Our study also highlights the contribution of smart phones and shows that by 2020, the footprint of smart phones alone would surpass the individual contribution of desktops, laptops and displays. Finally, we offer some actionable recommendations on how to mitigate and curb the ICT explosive GHGE footprint, through a combination of renewable energy use, tax policies, managerial actions and alternative business models.
The IT industry in general and data centers in particular are subject to a very dynamic development. Within a few years, the structure and components of data centers can change completely. This applies not only to individual data centers (see [27], in this volume), but also to the structure of the data center market at the national or international level. The sizes, types, and locations of data centers are changing significantly because of trends such as the consolidation of data centers, the increasing use of colocation data centers, virtualization, and cloud computing. The construction of large cloud data centers, for example Google in Finland, Facebook in Sweden, or Microsoft in Ireland, is an example of these developments. In consequence, there is an impact on the overall energy demand of data centers. This chapter discusses these developments and the impact on the overall energy consumption of data centers using the example of Germany.