Electricity 4.0: Powering Schneider’s global net-zero vision

A group of senior executives at Schneider Electric recently delved into the plethora of environmental challenges that exist today and how technology advances can help meet them head-on.

The advances, they said, are wrapped into an initiative called Electricity 4.0 that involves many facets, key among them being that chief information officers (CIOs) and cloud providers create sound and workable sustainability strategies.

The one constant is this: No one company, no operator of a data centre and no single human being can do it alone, for when it comes to the eye-opening challenges that revolve around sustainability, there is no room for individualism.

That much was obvious during a presentation by Pankaj Sharma, executive vice president of Schneider’s secure power division.

“Data centres play a critical role in driving Electricity 4.0, which we believe is the key to changing the trajectory of climate change,” he said. “As an industry, we have a responsibility to drive forward our environmental commitments with extreme urgency.

“We’ve made some progress but to avoid a major energy challenge, all data centres, including distributed edge data centres, must be more sustainable, efficient, adaptive and resilient.”

Electricity 4.0 is the fuel for a more “sustainable and resilient net zero world,” he said, because it combines digital advances with electricity advances. “Digital makes the invisible visible, eliminating waste and driving efficiency. Electricity is the most efficient energy and the best vector of decarbonization.”

In order to reach that point by 2050 when more than 120 countries around the world, including Canada, have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions, much needs to be done now rather than later, said Sharma.

As a company, Schneider has set some lofty goals, with a carbon pledge that will see its operations be carbon neutral by 2025 and reach net-zero status by 2040 as opposed to 2050.

According to a United Nations backgrounder on climate action, “Put simply, net-zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests for instance.

“Transitioning to a net-zero world is one of the greatest challenges humankind has faced. It calls for nothing less than a complete transformation of how we produce, consume, and move about. The energy sector is the source of around three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions today and holds the key to averting the worst effects of climate change.

“Replacing polluting coal, gas and oil-fired power with energy from renewable sources, such as wind or solar, would dramatically reduce carbon emissions.”

Three studies released at the media briefing reveal that in order for IT and data centre organizations to achieve net-zero IT operations, a great deal of work must still be done.

Findings from 451 Research, Forrester and Canalys were based on data collected “from more than 3,000 global participants.” These included the largest co-location and cloud providers, IT solution providers, and IT professionals across different segments and organization sizes.

“Overall findings consistently demonstrate that across the data centre and IT industry, there is a discrepancy between where companies think they are and implementing full lifecycle sustainability programs across their IT infrastructure,” a release issued by Schneider stated.

“According to the 451 Research findings, in surveying 1,100 IT professionals responsible for core and distributed IT, whereas 26 per cent of participants self-identified as having a full lifecycle sustainability program covering all the infrastructure, only 14 per cent are taking the actions to have implemented the programs.

“The analysis further identifies 22 per cent as not addressing sustainability as a major focus, though they may have efficiency initiatives to improve specific areas of operations.”

Anna Timme, head of secure power sustainability at Schneider, said research indicated that only 43 per cent of data centre providers had comprehensive sustainability programs.

“The industry must look beyond efficiency to curb the environmental impact of our exploding digital infrastructure, which is the backbone of Electricity 4.0 and the key to a sustainable and resilient future,” she said. “We absolutely need more digital infrastructure in order to change the trajectory of climate change.”

Data centre providers, said Timme, must implement “comprehensive sustainability strategies supported by actionable metrics. IT professionals must implement sustainability programs across their entire hybrid landscape, however complex it may be. And the ecosystem of partners must accelerate the co-creation of programs, training, and offers to drive measurable change.”

Change is also coming when it comes to how best monitor and manage sprawling hybrid IT infrastructures.

At the press briefing, Schneider announced the “modernization” of its EcoStruxure IT software portfolio that it said is designed to make the hybrid IT environment resilient, secure and sustainable.

“As IT infrastructure continues to spread, business continuity is dependent on everything from the smallest end point to the largest data centre,” the company said. “Therefore, edge deployments are now considered as mission critical as centralized data centres, and a new capability of software tools is required to maintain the resiliency and security of the infrastructure.”

Kevin Brown, senior vice president of EcoStruxure solutions and secure power at Schneider, said, “There’s been tremendous change since DCIM (data centre infrastructure management) first emerged as a software category.

“The hybrid IT environment is challenging even the most sophisticated CIO organization with maintaining the resiliency, security, and sustainability of their IT systems. We call this trend DCIM 3.0.”

EcoStruxure IT, he said, ensures business continuity by enabling secure monitoring, management, insights, planning, and modeling, whether from a single IT rack to hyper-scale IT, on premises, in the cloud, and at the edge.

From a sustainability perspective, those insights, Brown said, will be particularly important both today and in the future.

“We believe at some point CIOs will be asked the following question: What is the energy consumption of your IT footprint. What is the carbon footprint of your IT infrastructure and what are you doing to manage it? We would argue that today, very few CIOs have any good answers to those questions.”

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. He has extensive experience as a reporter, feature writer and editor and has been covering technology-related issues for more than 30 years.

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