Pillars of the Green Transition 2023 Report: Exclusive Interview with Bruno Lopez

Nov 24, 2023
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Bruno Loyang Rack Aisle

Special Report: Pillars of the Green Transition


In this Newsweek report published in conjunction with COP28, Bruno Lopez (President and Group CEO, STT GDC) and other leaders from North America, Europe and Singapore discuss how they are spearheading the green transition through technology, innovation and being part of the circular economy.


Can you give our readers a brief introduction to data centers and explain why they are essential?


Data centers are essentially the digital hubs where all of today's generated data is processed and stored, covering everything from personal videos to important business databases. They are buildings which house a network of computers and servers that host the data created not only in the physical sense by your devices but also in an interconnected global network often referred to as "the cloud". Data gets in and out using fiber optic connections to facilitate rapid data transmission. Essentially, data centers are at the core of digitalization, supporting various functions in our day-to-day lives, including ATM transactions and flight bookings, and are relied on by all businesses and government as critical infrastructure. They must be equipped with substantial reliability to avoid system failures and ensure a smooth, efficient digital experience for users.


Data centers aim to have the data stored as close to the users as possible to enhance speed and reduce latency. The proximity of data storage to the users helps in speeding up the data retrieval process, fostering efficiency in the digital landscape. This phenomenon is critical to the functioning of several industries, including major tech companies and financial institutions.


How have data centers adapted to the increased infrastructure demands brought about by the advent of AI, and how does STT GDC handle these?


The advent of AI, especially with developments like ChatGPT, has indeed reshaped the demands on data centers. Initially, these centers were focused on supporting servers centralized around general purpose computing and CPUs. However, the emergence of AI has propelled a requirement to manage more high performance compute which in turn requires a high density of power for such workloads. In response, we at STT GDC, having a global presence with 85 data centers and 1.5GW of capacity, are continually working to adapt and enhance our infrastructural backbone.


We have diversified our offerings to include a GPU-based infrastructure-as-a-service platform, emphasizing high-performance computing that encompasses AI training and inference workloads, through innovating engineering methods like liquid immersion cooling. This technology involves immersing AI servers in a liquid dielectric to efficiently manage the heat generated, thereby promoting environmental friendliness through better energy efficiency and reduced water usage. We are focused on enhancing our Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) to bring it down below 1.1 times (a PUE factor of 1 being ideal), pushing towards a more efficient, sustainable operation in tune with environmental necessities.


Could you elaborate on STT GDC's environmental initiatives, including your hydrogen project in Singapore?


As part of Singapore's commitment to the Paris Accord and its own decarbonization strategy, the country is steering towards creating a low-carbon hydrogen ecosystem. Our target is to achieve carbon neutral operations in our data centers by 2030, a goal set ahead of the country's 2050 target. As of now, 52% of our operational footprint is powered by carbon-free renewable energy substantiated by independent audits to ensure authenticity and avoid greenwashing.


The hydrogen project involves collaboration on several projects, including championing hydrogen fuel-cell powered data centres with Bloom Energy and SK Ecoplant, and separately studying gas turbine re-fuelling with Linde Gas and YTL Power Seraya, to facilitate clean hydrogen energy deployment in our Singapore data centers. This initiative is a part of a larger governmental strategy to integrate low-carbon hydrogen into the national grid, despite the lack of local resources. Through partnerships and meticulous planning, we are pioneering in creating a viable, safe hydrogen supply chain to foster a clean energy solution, not just for our data centers but as a contribution towards the national energy grid.


Tell us about the Wustermark data center campus and its uniqueness.


The Wustermark data center campus is an ambitious project in Berlin we are quite excited about, as it stands to be possibly the largest green data center campus in Europe. Central to this project is the integration with one of the country's most expansive contiguous onshore wind farms, which will be the primary source of power for the campus. We are working closely with the grid operator to funnel this renewable energy efficiently and effectively at a critical renewable energy grid supply point. In a bid to contribute positively to the region's infrastructure beyond merely satisfying digital needs, we are pioneering efforts to facilitate a supply of 24/7 green electrons to the data center by 2030, exploring technologies such as grid-scale battery storage and production of green hydrogen to harness excess wind energy.


Furthermore, we are actively exploring innovative solutions to enhance sustainability, such as collaborating on waste heat recycling initiatives with the local municipality to develop a future district heating network for Wustermark. This not only curtails the community's reliance on fossil fuels for heating during the winter but also significantly lessens the environmental impact associated with running data centers.


How has your company chosen its geographical locations?


Our geographical strategy originated from our base in Singapore, focusing first on areas we were familiar with, including Southeast Asia. Early on, we identified a gap in the London market, specifically in 2015 when the growth of the data center market there was somewhat stagnant. We perceived potential for growth before the influx of major cloud providers and chose to invest in the UK market, which has since expanded remarkably from a capacity of 5 megawatts to well over 200 megawatts.


We have managed to carve out a considerable presence across Asia, extending our reach to most major cities in the Southeast Asian region that support substantial digital needs. This growth trajectory, guided by our commitment to sustainability, demonstrates our belief that it is possible to deliver sustainable, profitable solutions while remaining committed to environmental responsibility.


What is your vision for the data centers of the future?


It is imperative that the data centers of the future align with community needs while navigating conflicting megatrends in the sector, including the burgeoning demand for AI and high-performance computing. The pressing issue we face is tackling the immense power demands of the sector without exacerbating environmental problems. It is a substantial challenge, but a challenge we are tackling head-on.


To address this, we are innovating rapidly in fields such as liquid immersion cooling and clean hydrogen usage to steer towards carbon-neutral data centre operations, ensuring a non-detrimental impact on the climate. The objective is to continually evolve, redesign, and perhaps rebuild older data centers to maintain relevance and sustainability. Leveraging tools such as AI to enhance cooling efficiency in data centers is a part of our strategy to fulfill community needs in an environmentally friendly manner. This conscious shift is not just about protecting the industry's reputation but fulfilling a moral obligation to safeguard the planet for current and future generations. It embodies our firm belief that it is possible to marry profitability and sustainability in the data center sector, without compromising on the quality of service provided to the community and the environment.


This article was first published in Investment Reports, content provider for Newsweek, on 24 November 2023.