The Macquarie Telecom Group is seeking approval to build a major 32-megawatt new data centre at its Macquarie Park Data Centre Campus in Sydney. 

Dubbed Intellicentre 3 Super West, the facility will aim to meet the needs of corporate, government and multinational customers and enhance local cybersecurity infrastructure and capabilities, according to the company. 

While data centres are necessary for facilitating modern life, recent information that came to light about the shocking energy consumption of cryptocurrency mining has raised concerns over the carbon footprints of these and other major IT facilities.

According to the government-operated Energy Rating website, in 2013 data centres consumed 7.3 terawatt-hours of electricity in Australia, or around 3.9 per cent of total national consumption.

Servers and cooling systems account on average for the greatest share of direct electricity use in data centers, followed by storage drives and network devices 

However while data centres do consume large amounts of energy, they have not escaped the decarbonisation push focussed on the built environment over the past decade or so. 

Specific NABERS ratings exist for data centres with ratings based on companies that own just the building, just the equipment within it, or both. 

Data centres are given a rating of between one to six stars based on their Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), which provides a ratio of total facility power to the IT equipment power.

An ideal rating would be a PUE of 1, however on average, data centres have a PUE of 2.5, while state-of-the-art facilities aim for around 1.5.

While most data centres in Australia are over 20 years old and inefficient in terms of their energy consumption, IT companies are now taking more responsibility for their carbon footprint and designing data centres to be more energy efficient.

“IC3 Super West will be among the most efficient data centres in the world,” Macquarie Data Centres group executive, David Hirst told The Fifth Estate.

“Our Macquarie Park Data Centre Campus adheres to a range of standards to maximise efficiency, including an industry-leading power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio. We’ve also successfully incorporated renewables initiatives in our data centre campus, for example a five-ton solar rooftop installation in our IC5 Canberra facility.”

While it is too early to say exactly what PUE Macquarie will achieve at their new facility, generally data centres consume less energy at scale, meaning it will be more efficient than several smaller and early public estimates are for a PUE of 1.28.

“While colocation data centres consume a lot of energy, they are exponentially more efficient than multiple smaller data centres in offices and organisations across the country – the economies of scale simply can’t be achieved in that setting. Data centres like ours are actually the most efficient way to manage the digital economy and data’s increasing energy footprint,” Mr Hirst said. 

In a recent article published by Renew, sustainability expert Alan Pears expressed exasperation at the bad rap digital services had received in some sustainability and media circles. 

While common online platforms such as Zoom and Netflix do contribute to carbon emissions, he says they are minimal compared with the carbon emissions they likely avoid. 

It is widely considered that the emissions digitalisation saves  through reduced transportation, better manufacturing techniques and so on, outweighs the amount of energy it consumes. 

Pears estimates that flying from Sydney to Melbourne, including a 100 kilometre taxi ride to and from the airport, is equivalent to around 1000 hours spent on Zoom. 

He adds that, “many digital businesses are investing heavily in energy efficiency and renewable energy, so the impacts of internet apps are declining”.

The new Macquaire facility will cost $78 million, even before the high tech fitout is installed, which will total much more. 

With planning permission expected to be granted in early 2022, the company expects to complete construction of Phase 1 of IC3 Super West in the second half of 2023.

“This data centre will attract new investment into Australia from multinationals looking to expand in the Asia Pacific region,” Macquarie Telecom Group chief executive David Tudehope said.  

“The NSW digital economy is rapidly growing, and this project will create world-class infrastructure and valuable long-term jobs in the digital and cyber security sector.”