Tag Archives: leadership

Exploring carbon neutral and NEXTneutral with Craig Scroggie, CEO NEXTDC [with video]

Information technology is responsible for as many carbon emissions as air travel. Data centres, which house IT infrastructure, are growing at an exponential rate globally, and it is predicted that over the next five years, as much as 20% of all electricity generated will be consumed by the ICT sector.

Australia’s leading data centre provider NEXTDC is tackling this problem head-on: They have been carbon-neutral since 2018 and now offer an industry-leading carbon-neutral service to their customers. I recently had the pleasure to speak with Craig Scroggie, CEO of NEXTDC, about their journey to net-zero.

Craig is a visionary leader who is never satisfied with the status quo and is always on the lookout for performance improvements for his customers, and emissions reductions in NEXTDC’s business. In this article, I’ll share how NEXTDC achieved carbon neutrality, how they are helping their customers achieve their own sustainability goals, and Craig’s three key takeaway messages for other organisations looking to achieve net-zero emissions.

Data centres are power-hungry

Every time you watch a movie on Netflix, make a Zoom or Teams call, search for something on the Internet, post on LinkedIn, watch a funny cat video, or order online, data centres are working away in the background, processing, storing and disseminating the data and applications that enable our modern lifestyle.

In our interview, Craig notes that forecasts from Gartner, IDC and others indicate that every 18 to 24 months, the total amount of information worldwide doubles! It follows then that the amount of information that data centres need to store, back up, protect and share is also doubling.

ICT equipment needs power – and a lot of it. But it’s not just the equipment itself, there is also the power required to cool data centres. Even with advances in digital technology, ICT equipment still generates a lot of heat, which needs to be efficiently removed to ensure the data centre functions optimally.

When you add electricity use from air conditioning to the electricity consumption by the computer equipment itself, you can picture just how much energy is needed. Craig said that the power consumed by data centres globally is between 2% and 3% of all electricity use  and that over the next five years, it is forecast that data centres will consume as much as 20% of all electricity generated.

How NEXTDC achieved carbon neutrality

NEXTDC is dedicated to continuously improving the benchmarks in the industry for data centre operational and sustainability excellence. For Craig, sustainability improvements start at the supply chain, the design, construction and development of data centres, and go all the way through to day-to-day operations.

NEXTDC is making use of the environment rather than use power to drive high-cost cooling and carefully manages airflow to reduce the amount of energy that is required to drive mechanical cooling systems.

They pioneered renewable energy production in the Australian data centre industry with M1 Melbourne’s $1.2 million photovoltaic system, installed eight years ago in 2013. NEXTDC is continuing its rollout of solar on data centre roofs as well as on adjacent buildings. They are also investing in power purchasing agreements, where they act collaboratively with other buyers to fund the development of wind farms and other generation technologies to power their facilities.

NEXTDC also places a high value on water efficiency and recycling of water, as well as recycling the company’s and their customer’s waste materials. As a testament to their operational efficiencies, NEXTDC’s SI Sydney and M1 Melbourne data centres have both been certified as NABERS 5-star rated data centre infrastructure facilities for energy efficiency.

To take responsibility for all relevant greenhouse gas emissions, NEXTDC decided to go carbon neutral, and has been a certified Climate Active organisation since November 2018.

Extending NEXTDC’s carbon neutrality to their customers

The next step in NEXTDC’s sustainability journey was to allow their customers to come together around a shared commitment to sustainability leadership and create a more sustainable future. NEXTDC created a service called NEXTneutral, which enables customers and partners to leverage the carbon offset capability NEXTDC has built for their own corporate program.

It is difficult for data centre customers to know how many carbon emissions are generated by data centre operation that relates to their business. Under NEXTneutral, the carbon emissions produced in a standard data centre rack are pre-calculated. NEXTDC takes care of the procurement of carbon offsets on their customers behalf, which helps their customers quickly and easily neutralise carbon emissions attributable to their portion of data centre electricity use. The carbon offsets fund important ecological projects, which in turn creates real change for the environment and for society.

It’s as easy as choosing to fly carbon neutral – NEXTDC customers can opt-in by going to their service management portal and clicking the NEXTneutral button, which allows them to offset their data centre emissions quickly and efficiently.

How NEXTDC manages physical climate change risks

In the interview, I asked Craig how physical climate risks are affecting NEXTDC. Craig mentioned that physical climate risks such as flooding, bushfires, earthquakes and cyclones are front of mind for data centres, alongside other physical risks that could cause outages and disruptions. He says that when you think about protecting customers infrastructure and building business continuity and resilience into operations, the first action is ensuring that the data centre is always on and always available.

With this in mind, NEXTDC has certified to the highest standard in the world. The Uptime Institute, an independent thought leader and certification body in IT and data centres, awarded NEXTDC the ultimate recognition of the overall design excellence of NEXTDC’s facilities. NEXTDC started with Tier III certification, then moved to Tier IV Certification for Fault Tolerance, which is the highest standard in the world.

Craig Scroggie’s three tips for other organisations moving to net-zero

The opportunity to be the platform of choice for the digital era comes with the responsibility to be stewards of a sustainable future. I asked Craig what advice he would give other organisations moving down the net-zero path. He provided these three takeaway messages:

1 – Just start

Craig says to just start and do something. It doesn’t matter where you start, but when you think about your operations, the sustainability of what you do, and looking for partners that can assist you, you don’t have to spend the next three years thinking about all elements of a sustainability strategy. Start somewhere, look at the areas in your supply chain that you can have the most influence over and choose something to make a difference on.

2 – Get help

The second key takeaway message from Craig is that there are a lot of people out there that would love to help. So if you’re looking to achieve Climate Active certification, you can talk to the relevant stakeholders and the Climate Active government department. If you need assistance with energy efficiency, benchmarking, and certification, talk to the NABERS team. You can speak with independent providers who measure energy efficiency and help you build strategies to reduce the amount of power you consume.

And if you’re a customer who builds IT infrastructure, or a cloud service provider or an enterprise, you can talk to a company like NEXTDC to help you opt into programs that allow you to offset the carbon footprint of your data centre and to also reduce your energy footprint. There are many people that want to make a difference in this area, so reach out to someone and start having a conversation on what action you can take that will make a difference.

3 – Never stop

Don’t try and solve the sustainability challenge all in one go. NEXTDC started out with small strategies, such as wanting to have renewable energy as an input to their business, and over time, they got better at managing airflow and reducing their PUE. Craig says that you need to look at the challenge with a long-term view. Being more sustainable is not something that is ever finished; it will always be a work in progress. Every day, every month, every year, you learn something new, and you continue to build that into your long-range plans.

For NEXTDC, every new sustainability achievement will put them a step closer to their long-range plan of getting to 100% renewable energy and to the long-term goal of 100% of their customer base opting into offsetting their carbon footprint as well.

About NEXTDC Limited

NEXTDC is Australia’s leading data centre-as-a-service company and one of Australia’s fastest-growing technology organisations. NEXTDC data centres and custom co-location solutions are engineered to grow in line with the demands of a business and promote flexibility through solutions that scale, supported by the country’s most dynamic and highly skilled ecosystem of partners, carriers and cloud platforms.

About 100% Renewables

100% Renewables are experts in helping organisations develop their net-zero and carbon-neutral pathways. If you need help with developing your climate action plan, please contact  Barbara or Patrick.

If you are an organisation leading in climate action and would like to get interviewed in our Driving Net Profit With Zero Emissions show, please get in touch with Barbara.

Feel free to use an excerpt of this blog on your own site, newsletter, blog, etc. Just send us a copy or link and include the following text at the end of the excerpt: “This content is reprinted from 100% Renewables Pty Ltd’s blog.

Best practice Climate Action Strategies for local governments [with video]

I was recently invited to present at the Local Government NSW Net-Zero Emissions Insight Series webinar. I gave our thoughts on best practice climate action strategies for local governments, specifically focusing on developing an emissions reduction strategy and plan both for council operations as well as for the community. I also talked about the barriers to action and cited a few case studies. This blog post summarises what I presented and includes a 10-min video of my presentation.

Emissions reduction strategy and plan for local government

100% Renewables specialises in developing climate action strategies for business (also referred to as energy master plans, renewable energy strategies, or net-zero emissions plans).

Here is our method for developing a climate action strategy focused on greenhouse gas emissions reduction. It’s a seven-step method that is based on best practice we have developed over the years.

FIGURE 1: 100% RENEWABLES SEVEN-STEP PROCESS TO DEVELOP A CLIMATE ACTION STRATEGY

The most important aspect of our method is that a climate action strategy needs to be built on stakeholder engagement, which generates buy-in and the development of emission reduction opportunities that are practical, cost-effective and feasible. Feasible options are developed into business cases, which are then put into short, medium and long-term plans, which ideally align with a local government’s Delivery Program, Operational Plan and Strategic Plan.

It’s always a good idea to present a draft strategy to councillors before a plan is put up for adoption, so that councillors are aware of what the benefits are and have an opportunity to shape the strategy before it is finalised.

Actions on climate can address multiple abatement areas, technologies and cross-cutting approaches. The figure below shows the typical carbon reduction areas for a local government’s operations.

FIGURE 2: TYPICAL ABATEMENT AREAS FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT’S OPERATIONS

Opportunities range from energy efficiency, onsite solar and battery storage, to energy-efficient transport and opportunities for waste management. Councils can also look at sequestering carbon in wetlands and urban forests (though these are hard to measure!). Abatement can also be achieved through procurement, such as buying renewable energy – through a renewable energy PPA, for instance, by reducing emissions in your supply chain, or by investing money in carbon offset projects. Local governments may also be interested in developing their own local clean energy generation projects, such as a mid-scale solar farm or bioenergy generation.

Carbon reduction is also enabled by having an appropriate financing strategy, and by having good governance and leadership structures in place.

There are also other external opportunities, such as a greening grid, though forecasts of grid decarbonisation support organisations acting now to reduce their emissions, rather than wait for this to occur.

An example of a net-zero pathway we developed for the City of Canada Bay’s operations is shown below. This scenario sees Council continue to increase its level of renewable energy purchased via PPAs to 100% in successive procurement cycles. It also sees 80% of petrol and 50% of diesel vehicles switch to electric by FY2030. Carbon offsets need to be purchased in 2030 to reduce residual greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

Emissions reduction strategy and plan for communities

Moving on to take a look at community emissions reduction plans. With many councils now having a plan in place for their operations, some are turning their attention to their communities. Local governments usually emit around 1-2% of the emissions in their community, so the key to unlocking deep cuts at a local government area level is to engage households and business.

FIGURE 3: TYPICAL ABATEMENT AREAS FOR COMMUNITIES

The abatement opportunities here are similar to council’s operational emissions, with the addition of agriculture, forestry and land use, particularly in regional areas. Key tasks are to identify and get the buy-in from many stakeholders, to understand their ability to influence their emissions, to develop opportunities that will help them to unlock that potential, and most importantly, to identify resources that can coordinate and help to facilitate some of these opportunities, such as community and business groups, Council staff, other levels of government and suppliers.

In our experience, we have identified ten key levers that can help to drive action at a community level, centred around government, business and community members each doing their part.

FIGURE 4: LEVERS TO REDUCE EMISSIONS IN THE COMMUNITY

For instance, Councils lead by example by committing to and achieving affordable emissions cuts in their operations and can demonstrate the feasibility of technologies like solar and electric vehicles.

Councils can also work with the community to educate and inform, incentivise and implement some planning controls, but rely on state and federal governments to do the heavy lifting on building standards.

Infrastructure to enable deep cuts can range from new transmission infrastructure to enable new large scale renewable energy generation, which federal and state governments need to lead, to EV charging that Council can influence in collaboration with others.

Of course, individuals and businesses can and do take action themselves, and this is key to whole communities decarbonising.

In our recent community emissions reduction plan for Clarence Valley Council, we have tried to capture the level of influence that different community stakeholders can have on different abatement areas, and this is summarised in our graphic below.

FIGURE 5: STAKEHOLDERS’ CAPABILITY TO INFLUENCE

Note though that even when the ability to influence emissions is considered to be low, the combined advocacy of many for change can also be impactful, so this does not mean that stakeholders should not act. They should, and do. Community Strategic Plans are a great example of precisely this, and we see many CSPs where individuals in communities have called for sustainability and action on climate to be a key pillar of their 10-year plan.

Top 5 barriers to action

There are, of course, many barriers to reducing emissions. Five key ones stand out[1]:

[1] Sustainable Councils and Communities Program Research by Iris Research, July 2020

FIGURE 6: TOP 5 BARRIERS TO REDUCING EMISSIONS
  • Financial constraints – naturally, there are financial constraints, whether through limited funds, low rate bases, or competing priorities
  • Lack of knowledge and internal resources – lack of information about opportunities is decreasing as initiatives like solar, LED, variable speed drives (VSDs) and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) become ‘the norm’, but even then, many local governments don’t have the resources to identify, plan and engage on energy
  • Old infrastructure – lots of energy-using assets are old, and big savings won’t happen until these systems are upgraded, which often relies on grants
  • Lack of a plan or strategy – simply not having a plan of actions to do over the next 4-5 years is a barrier, usually linked to a shortage of resources
  • Lengthy payback periods – lastly, some measures are currently difficult to justify. Batteries, for example, are still expensive, and small solar farms need other local co-benefits to be considered compared to a PPA from large solar and wind farms

Case study examples

Below are case studies from projects we have been involved with in recent years through the development of climate action strategies.

  • Coffs Harbour City Council’s ‘Powering Ahead’ is the next stage in Coffs Harbour City Council’s REERP implementation and involves the rollout of 2.2 MW of rooftop and ground-mounted solar PV to 16 sites across Council’s operations
  • Tweed Shire Council: multiple solar PV systems have been completed. Council also committed to a 604 kW ground-mounted solar array at its Banora Point WWTP.
  • Narrandera Shire Council’s Climate Action Strategy has recently been adopted. Council has applied for grant co-funding to implement the plan.
  • Nambucca Valley Council’s Renewable Energy Action Plan (REAP) was adopted in 2019. Since then, Council has steadily implemented the identified energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities.
  • Kyogle used a Government grant of just over $400,000 for solar PV and building lighting upgrades and put aside a further $300,000 for streetlighting LED upgrades – to be done in two years, with initial capital coming from savings from actions implemented to date.
  • Clarence Valley Council recently developed a Community Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy with funding help from the NSW Government. This plan follows the development of Council’s operations strategy in 2017, where ambitious goals for emissions reduction and renewable energy were set.

If you need help with your climate action plan

100% Renewables are experts in helping organisations develop their climate action strategies and plans, and supporting the implementation and achievement of ambitious targets. If you need help to create your Climate Action Strategy, please contact  Barbara or Patrick.

Feel free to use an excerpt of this blog on your own site, newsletter, blog, etc. Just send us a copy or link and include the following text at the end of the excerpt: “This content is reprinted from 100% Renewables Pty Ltd’s blog.