03 May 2022

Commissioning – the first step in ensuring a sustainable data centre footprint

When we talk about data centre sustainability, much of the conversation is focused on operational elements - power utilisation, water consumption, green power sources, etc. While each of these are critical to an operational data centre strategy, one area missing from most sustainability conversations is the commissioning and construction of the data centre itself.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), buildings and the building construction sector are responsible for almost one-third of total global final energy consumption and nearly 15% of direct CO2 emissions. Stacy Smedley, Chair and Executive Director of Building Transparency, shared with Data Centre Dynamics last year that embodied carbon - the sum greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the mining, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, transportation and installation of building materials - makes up half of a buildings total carbon emissions. This is a prime area for greater focus and efficiency.

Kao Data has had the pleasure of working closely with Logi-tek in the Commissioning Management of our latest data centre build. Logi-tek is a Commissioning Management and Technical Services company that recently won the Queen’s Award for International Trade reflecting their hard work and client focus dedication. They oversee the installation of the data centre and manage the testing of the equipment to ensure it operates within the design parameters we set out. Adam Plavecky is a Principal Commissioning Manager at Logi-tek and recently shared with me how commissioning a data centre can impact its lifetime sustainability.

“At the most basic level, when Kao Data sets the parameters of how you want the equipment to operate, we ensure, through the testing phase, the equipment is running as efficiently as possible,” said Adam. “If the equipment is not set up correctly it will use more energy than needed. When construction is handed over to the operations team, you need full confidence in knowing everything's running efficiently as it should be.”

Adam also shared the other steps Logi-tek takes to maximise sustainability at this stage of the build. Much of the testing is done at factory level, which cuts back the testing needed on site. They also use remote witnessing to reduce carbon footprints by eliminating the need to send engineers to the project site. Many of these processes came about because of Covid-19. The pandemic reinforced the idea that there’s not really a need to be at the factory and the processes that were put in place have continued on. Through each project they critique the process to make it better, as well as looking at ways of making it more efficient.

For Kao Data, these checkpoints are important as we are determined about not allowing the commission to proceed on to the next stage until we're satisfied that the equipment is operating as required. The factory testing is done as we need it to be. Many suppliers want to prove that their unit can drive 100 miles an hour, when actually we only want 70 miles an hour because that is more efficient. We want it audited to do what we need in our data centre environment in the most efficient method as possible. We want to test it with the control philosophy that suits us, not the factory.

Whatever we do at the building and construction phase of a data centre lasts for the life of the building. As a company we apply this notion of a “root and branch” investigation of carbon emissions and the carbon embedded into all aspects of the data centre facility. We're not just relying on the fact that the data centre is powered by 100% renewable energy, but rather we examine our equipment, infrastructure and processes to determine what else we can make more sustainable.

We have put this into practice in several ways. For example, last year Kao Data became the UK’s first data centre operator to fuel all our back-up generators with HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) fuel in place of traditional diesel. This enabled us to eliminate up to 90% of CO2 from our backup generators and significantly reduce nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions. It also helps us reduce Scope 3 emissions in our customers’ supply chain, something that is becoming more important as the industry moves towards Net Zero objectives.

This year we are adding Excool Zero indirect evaporative cooling (IEC) units with refrigerant reinforcement to our data centres. This replaces the original IEC concept that had no mechanical cooling. Adding refrigeration into an IEC may seem a bit counter intuitive compared to the original non-mechanically cooled solution, however there are considerable advantages to this approach.

Testing has shown that these units have an improved, annualised energy consumption compared to non-mechanically cooled alternatives and anything we can do to reduce core energy usage is key. Further, the result of adding mechanical cooling is the operational logic that we can prioritise water usage or power depending on the facility and wider community needs at that time. As an example, during a drought, Kao Data can operate the facility with minimal water relying on the refrigeration circuit to make up the shortfall. Additional benefits are the 48% reduction in footprint per kW of cooling, allowing space to be reallocated to other activities such as water-cooled servers. We rely on Logi-tek to ensure that the Excool Zero units are configured perfectly and the control features of the units are fully integrated and can be demonstrated as part of the commissioning process.

These Excool Zero units are able to cool industrial scale data centres, like Kao Data, with practically year-round free cooling, however with the climate changing and temperatures increasing, these units, in addition to their programable logic, add a layer of resilience for our customers. When temperatures are excessively high the mechanical cooling can kick-in, which enables us as a high performance data centre operator to guarantee the ASHRAE recommended standard of 27 degrees Celsius with confidence all year round.

Ultimately, all of these types of improvements and modifications are looking after the customer's interest and ensuring we do it in the most energy efficient and sustainable way possible. As a company, driving down energy usage, and ensuring our operations are as efficient as possible is a core pillar in our approach.

Our customers can have the confidence that we not only deliver on our SLAs but do so in a way that is more efficient than any other data centre provider in the UK, and all of this is backed-up by the hard work done in the commissioning phase by our partners Logi-tek.

Richard Collar

Richard is Kao Data's Technical Director and an experienced chartered mechanical engineer with more than 18 years experience working around engineering systems and infrastructure for mission critical operations. He's currently busy working on the development of our Slough data centre and KLON-02 in Harlow.


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