How much power does a data centre use?

Data centres have high power consumption. Not only do they need to power the servers, they also need to run critical systems such as cooling (to ensure that the data centre doesn’t overheat - a serious consideration bearing in mind how many servers are running at once), fire suppression systems, and various layers of physical and biometric security.

In 2017 Forbes calculated that US data centres use more than 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, and the global total power usage for data centres was roughly 416 terawatts - or around 3% of the total energy usage on the planet. The number of data centres has significantly grown since 2017 so the volume of power consumed and the kilowatt-hours will have risen significantly.

Most of this power is supplied through the grid, though all data centres will also have long term backup generators that are designed to come on if the main power source fails – these generators are usually petrol or diesel-powered.  

Finding an 'average' power consumption figure for a data centre is challenging - they range from co-location sites through to hyperscale datacentres the size of football stadia. Regardless of size, across the board there have been efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of data centres, including the introduction of a PUE rating – or power usage efficiency - to help make a comparative assessment. PUE determines how much of a data centre’s power is used to power the servers versus the non-IT equipment such as cooling. A score of 1.2 relates to a high state of efficiency and would mean that all the energy in a data centre is being used to power the servers, which a score of 2 would relate to an average score and would mean that the equipment used to manage and maintain the data centre is consuming just as much power as the servers are.

In 2020 the global average PUE was 1.59; the US and Canada sit at 1.53, while Europe is considerably lower at 1.46. Some datacentres in the UK have even achieved a PUE as low as 1.12 although the average is calculated to be between 1.50 - 1.80. A more efficient PUE is achieved by careful design, removing and cooling hot air more efficiently whether through low-cost/free sources of cool air (such as the data centre located inside the arctic circle), or making adjustments based on the surrounding environment.

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