Galicia Seeks 'Carbon-Neutral' Data Center Amid Sector's Rising Energy Use

Plans for a carbon-neutral data center in Spain serve as a reminder of how far the industry still has to go.

2 Min Read
data center with green lights

Impulsa Galicia and Ingenostrum have teamed up with the goal of building a €400 million (US$426.5 million) carbon-neutral data center in Spain. According to Impulsa Galicia – a public-private initiative backed by the Galicia region's decision-making body – the center could accommodate data from most Galician businesses. Although the companies have only agreed to conduct a feasibility study, the project serves as a reminder of the growing need to increase data center capacity while slashing emissions.

The 15-megawatt (MW) center would follow a larger, 70MW one in Cáceres, in the Extremadura region, also planned by Ingenostrum. While that project too is dubbed carbon-neutral, there is no mention of batteries or other storage technology, begging questions about what carbon-neutral electricity will power the data center when the sun isn't shining, which happens even in Spain.

When it comes to the green credentials of data centers – or pretty much anything else – the devil is always in the details. Data centers and data transmission each account for between 1% and 1.5% of global electricity consumption, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which sums up the sector's progress towards the goal of reaching net zero by 2050 as "more efforts needed."

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While demand and energy use are expected to grow in the coming years, the industry needs to significantly reduce its emissions if it is to align with the global goal of reaching net zero by 2050. According to IEA, emissions need to be halved by 2030. As a result, pressure from both government and customers is growing to make data centers greener.

In the data center operators' defense, they have managed to significantly improve energy efficiency. Since 2010, emissions have increased only modestly, despite demand skyrocketing as global Internet traffic grew 20-fold. The largest data center operators have also started to contract renewable energy for their facilities, with Amazon, Microsoft, Meta and Google becoming the four largest buyers of corporate renewable power purchase agreements. But that still does not erase their growing energy consumption and emissions footprint.

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