New plan to increase renewable energy in data centres

Last week, four central government ministries published a new plan promoting renewable energy uptake in China’s rapidly growing data centre and 5G infrastructure sectors.

The plan calls on companies to achieve an “integrated and green operation mode” by 2025. It sets numerical targets for efficiency, known as “power usage effectiveness” (PUE) – the ratio of a data centre’s total power consumption versus that used just to run its computers. A PUE of 1 indicates perfect efficiency. Industry leader Tencent aims to achieve 1.06 for one of its data centres in Guangdong.

The new plan targets bringing PUEs down to no more than 1.3 for large data centres and no more than 1.25 for “national node-hub” data centres. In particular, it encourages the uptake of solar and wind energy, including via decentralised means such as companies directly purchasing renewable energy from generation sources. It also encourages rooftop solar on facilities and modular hydrogen batteries.

The release of the plan comes just a few days after GDS Holdings, one of China’s largest data centre operators, pledged to reach 100% renewable energy usage and carbon neutrality by 2030. 

Even with a perfect PUE, data centres are extremely power intensive, as is 5G infrastructure. According to a 2020 Greenpeace report, in 2018 China’s data centres accounted for 2% of the country’s total power consumption, equivalent to the annual power needs of the city of Shanghai. 5G base stations, meanwhile, can consume as much as three times more electricity than 4G stations. “Greening” the power consumption of these two sectors, which are expected to expand rapidly over the coming years, has a significant contribution to make to the decarbonisation of China’s economy.

Read our reporting from earlier in the year on how China’s internet giants will reduce their emissions here.