As we enter the third month of 2012, we can but hope that this should be the year that the UK Government finally realises that its Carbon Reduction Commitment Scheme is bad for business.
Introduced under the banner of helping UK industry to become more energy efficient it seems to want to do nothing but penalise growth.
Our raison d’etre as the owner and operator of five UK data centres is to help businesses and organisations throughout the private and public sector to consolidate their IT infrastructures. By moving their servers off their premises into data centres like ours, which are efficiently run to maximise computer usage in environmentally-controlled settings, we are driving business efficiency.
MPs seem to think that because we use a lot of energy that we waste it. We don’t. In fact energy stewardship is critical to our business success. Our customers have the benefit of control panels that show them exactly what energy their servers are consuming so that they can make sound business decisions as they move forward.
Virtualisation of servers is shrinking carbon footprints by making organisations less reliant on enormous racks of hardware. And in terms of the actual consumer, the move to online retailing has lessened the need we have as human beings to always be driving in and out of town to go shopping.
The first ‘league table’ for the Carbon Reduction Commitment Scheme was published in November 2011 with Manchester United among the twenty two organisations ranked joint first. Manchester United came top alongside several NHS Trusts, OFGEM and British American Tobacco plc.
Comparing like with like? The CRC scheme rightly produced as much hair dryer treatment as Sir Alex Ferguson does in the dressing room – with Tim Yeo MP, chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Committee calling it ‘a straight forward theft’ after it was revealed that the decision to recycle the revenues from the scheme had raised £743m for HM Treasury.
There is a real problem for companies wanting to improve their green credentials because their ranking might not necessarily reflect their commitment to carbon reduction. Investing in more efficient technology to do this might lead to an increase in their energy consumption in the short term while trying to reduce it in the long term. A clearer picture needs to emerge and for businesses and organisations to be judged on all the different ways in which they are trying to reduce their environmental impact, not just their use of fossil fuels.
Data centre providers are making efforts to use renewable energy where possible. Iceland has opened its first 100 per cent carbon neutral data centre site to support UK and US companies in their environmental strategies. The Keflavik site taps into Iceland’s renewable energy power grid which takes advantage of hydro and geothermal energy sources and the country’s ambient temperature for cooling. And social network giant Facebook is to build its first data centre outside the US in the northern Swedish city of Lulea, close to the Arctic Circle, because of its access to renewable energy and its cold climate. In the UK even Swindon is playing host to a new data centre from Capgemini which has invested in the latest cooling technology.
Yet these are all £multi-million new builds. David Cameron pledged to make this ‘the greenest government ever’ by shifting to a low carbon economy but where are the incentives for existing data centres and their customers?
Cold aisle containment, virtualisation and the cloud can only take us so far.
The IT industry is like the development of the motorways in this country. When Harold Macmillan opened the M6 Preston By-Pass, the UK’s first motorway, in 1958, it was just two lanes of highway stretching a mere 8 miles. Today there are over 2,200 miles of motorway, connecting all parts of the country. The internet is like a super motorway, its network allowing people and businesses to connect, shop and trade like never before without having to get into their cars to do it, and yet it seems to be seen as a pariah because it uses energy.
Nobody’s saying that energy efficiency isn’t important but businesses, especially SMEs which the government says it wants to drive recovery, need to be encouraged to think about their carbon use rather than be punished for it.
Technology can help to reduce costs and provide innovative ways to work and increase revenues. This in turn points to sustainability and growth, important issues in times of economic difficulty.
Reducing the carbon footprint is not easy, but European businesses must invest in green technology that enables them to be more energy efficient and rely less on natural resources. Over the next 20 to 30 years, Europe has some specific green regulatory targets to meet and the uptake in the Smart Grid, which can generate energy through renewable resources, will be critical in achieving these goals. The investment in renewable energy will also create new employment opportunities so it is in the interest of organisations to support the initiative by utilising greener technology.
The UK Government should be considering how to supply us all with the renewable energy we would happily use, at a price that we can afford. We don’t want UK business to be driving along the back lanes while everywhere else in the western world is speeding along the digital superhighway.