31 Aug 2020, 13:48
David Reay

German plan to make server farms climate-neutral sparks industry backlash


Germany’s government wants to make server farms climate neutral by 2030, sparking concern in the industry, Handelsblatt reports. Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said she will push for the target as part of the country’s current EU Council Presidency, and hopes for an EU-wide agreement by December. The move would form part of her Environmental Digital Agenda, which aims to tackle CO2 emissions in the power-hungry digital economy.

But industry figures told Handelsblatt that the target threatens growth in the EU data centre sector. Europe currently hosts only 4% of the world’s data and, if fewer server farms are located there, “we will not only lose control over the data, but in times of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, we will also lose an absolutely critical competitive factor”, said Alexander Rabe, managing director of the internet association eco. He wants industry players to be involved in setting targets, while Roman Bansen, of the digital association Bitkom, said server farms could not be climate neutral until the power supply is CO2 free – something Germany aims to achieve only by 2050. “Digitization should be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem,” adds Rabe.

Server farms are highly energy intensive, with those in Germany alone consuming the same amount of electricity as the city of Berlin. According to an estimate by the Borderstep Institute, the power demand of European data centres has increased by more than half in the past decade, and the industry continues to grow. This presents a headache for the German government, which is keen to support digitalisation and meet its green power climate goals, but is still reliant on fossil fuels.

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