Climate experts around the world agree that if carbon emissions are not reduced considerably, our planet will face disastrous consequences. Microsoft has been working toward carbon neutrality since 2012, and in January 2020, Brad Smith announced their commitment to go carbon negative by 2030. However, this goal is not readily achievable.
As the Cloud business grows, so does the datacenter track. In the journey toward carbon negative, Microsoft is taking steps to undo the impact that data centers have on the environment. Achieving this goal will require the implementation of innovative technologies that have not yet been developed and will take significant measures.
In order to realize Microsoft’s commitment to go carbon negative by 2030, and accelerate the global transition from fossil fuels, the Redmond giant is aiming to eliminate diesel fuel dependence by 2030.
Diesel fuel accounts for less than 1 percent of Microsoft’s total emissions. Its use is primarily limited to Azure datacenters. Like most cloud providers around the world, diesel-powered generators support continuous operation in the case of power outages and other service disruptions.
“They are expensive. And they sit around and don’t do anything for more than 99% of their life,” said Mark Monroe, a principle infrastructure engineer on Microsoft’s team for datacenter advanced development.
Journey to Carbon Negative
A significant aspect of going carbon negative is completely changing the way data centers operate. Datacenters follow some standard methods regarding cooling, including open-air and base air conditioning. These methods have helped reduce the water and energy consumption of data centers significantly, but they alone are not enough. Currently, the backup power and the reserve power for peak load hours for the data centers are both dependent on fossil fuels such as diesel. Microsoft is working to change that.
Their ambition to reduce the carbon footprint has necessitated the exploration of various technologies. Microsoft is exploring many technologies, and then it determining the best combination based on the overall goal, specific data center locations, and local needs.
Liquid immersion cooling
Not only will liquid immersion cooling help eliminate water use, but it is also predicted that energy consumption will be reduced by at least 5 to 15 percent. Advantageously, this closed-loop cooling system leads to fewer server racks and smaller datacenter configurations. Datacenters take up a large amount of space in their current configuration, which is a huge advantage.
Grid-interactive UPS batteries
Grid-interactive Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) batteries help balance phase distribution and lower the power demand by running data centers on microburst power per phase as needed. These batteries store energy with up to 90 percent efficiency and bridge the gap for renewables. Microsoft is exploring this technology, and these long-lasting batteries can be used as an alternative to traditional backup generators. This can extend the life of batteries from a few minutes to several hours.
Clean power backup
Clean Power Backup with less harmful emissions can easily replace conventional diesel. Synthetic diesel is less harmful to the environment and provides a much-needed bridge to use renewables. Synthetic diesel can also be used in diesel generators without any modifications, reducing emissions on the way to become carbon negative.
Hydrogen fuel cells provide data centers with another option for green backup energy and are almost twice as efficient as combustion engines. The only output is food-grade steam, which is then captured and reused.
Powering sustainability goals
These small steps add up to a big one. As per the 2018 study, the Azure workload will be 98 percent more carbon-efficient as compared to other data centers running on a traditional campus. At the same time, Microsoft is investing more in sustainability in the future. By moving the workload to Azure, you ensure that data centers drive your workloads with reduced emissions and reduced energy consumption.