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Singapore must ensure digital infrastructure is environmentally sustainable, says Desmond Lee

Singapore must ensure digital infrastructure is environmentally sustainable, says Desmond Lee

This multi-storey, 50-megawatt facility in Loyang is Digital Realty's largest data centre in Singapore. (Photo: Digital Realty)

SINGAPORE: As the digital economy continues to grow, it is important for Singapore to ensure that its digital infrastructure is “as environmentally sustainable as possible”, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee on Tuesday (Apr 6).

Mr Lee was speaking at a virtual event held for the opening of Digital Realty’s third and largest data centre in Singapore. 

The five-storey, 50-megawatt facility is also one of the US-based company’s most sustainable data centres in the region with a power usage effectiveness of 1.25. Digital Loyang II, or SIN12, has received the Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark Platinum certification.

This is the highest certification that a data centre can attain under the local assessment scheme for data centres, said the minister, adding that the SIN12 is “over 30 per cent more energy efficient than the industry norm”.

The new facility, known as Digital Loyang II or SIN12, is located in close proximity to the Changi north cable landing station, a key sub-sea interconnection hub for the region. (Photo: Digital Realty)

Digital Realty’s latest data centre was also built in a smart and resilient manner, Mr Lee added.

For instance, a “common data environment” was adopted during the construction process. This allowed the company’s consultants and its contractors to continue working on the building design despite pandemic-induced disruptions.

The new data centre also leveraged on design for manufacturing and assembly technology, with the use of pre-cast concrete and pre-fabricated mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. This enabled construction work to be moved off site and improved productivity by at least 30 per cent.

In addition, the pre-cast concrete components for the project were fully sourced locally.

“Taken together, these allowed SIN12 to complete construction on time and not be as affected as many other firms by shortages in manpower and material due to COVID-19 border restrictions,” Mr Lee said.

“Smart, resilient and sustainable buildings like SIN12 are what we are actively encouraging in Singapore in our ongoing efforts to transform our built environment sector.”

MODERATE GROWTH OF DATA CENTRES

The opening comes as Singapore is mulling a more sustainable approach for the growth of data centres here.

READ: Commentary: When our insatiable appetite for data can harm the environment too

In a written reply to a parliamentary question on Feb 1, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said the Government has “decided to moderate the growth” of data centres with a temporary pause on the release of state land for such purposes, as well as the development of data centres on existing state land.

The industry was informed of the decision in 2019 and has been consulted on ideas for a more sustainable growth, MTI added.

Data centres form an important part of the digital economy, but they are “intensive users” of water and electricity.

MTI said the industry has seen a “rapid increase” over the last five years, with 14 data centres having a total IT capacity of 768 megawatts being approved to be constructed on industrial state land. This compared to the approval of 12 data centres with a total IT capacity of 307 megawatts in the five-year period before that.

“We will thus need to manage the data centre ecosystem to ensure that it is environmentally sustainable, while supporting our business needs,” the ministry said in the written reply, adding that the Government is concluding its review and will share its plans with the industry “later this year”.

According to previous media reports, Digital Realty announced the acquisition of the site in Loyang for SIN12 in January 2019.

BALANCING GROWTH AND SUSTAINABILITY

Mr Mark Smith, Digital Realty’s managing director for Asia Pacific, said the company understands the need to balance digital growth with sustainability.

The company, which is one of the biggest data centre providers with 275 data centres in the world, said it has committed to the Science-Based Targets initiative, with goals that include bringing its carbon emissions in line with a 1.5-degree climate change scenario by 2030.

It has also issued US$5.6 billion in green bonds – the largest in the industry, according to Mr Smith.

“This area of sustainability is something that is critical to us because quite simply, it is to our customers and increasingly, for governments where we operate. So this is something that is critically important for Digital Realty going forward,” he said.

However, there are challenges. 

For one, Singapore’s tropical climate means that 35 to 40 per cent of the energy consumed by a data centre here goes to cooling.

Land constraints also pose “a significant constraint” to tapping renewable energy, given how “there’s only so much rooftop solar or floating PV (photovoltaic) that you can deploy in Singapore", said Mr Smith at an online panel discussion held after the opening.

WATCH: Floating data centre being developed to overcome land, energy constraints

But the company has come up with ways to navigate these challenges.

This includes implementing a cooling system design in SIN12 to help minimise evaporation losses and improve water-use efficiency. It also uses turbine generators, instead of diesel engines, and a combination of uninterruptible power supply and lithium-ion batteries to facilitate sustainable management, it said.

Apart from sustainable features, the SIN12, which spans 34,000 sq m, also offers “next-generation” colocation services which allows enterprises to “scale their critical infrastructure on-demand within a connected data community with optimal proximity to carriers, networks and cloud service providers”.

Enterprises will also be able to tap on its global data centre platform, which offers “productized solutions for network, control and data hub footprints”.

SIN12 is located adjacently to Digital Realty’s existing data centre in Loyang, with which it is connected by diverse high-count fibre routes. Both facilities in Loyang are also interconnected with the company’s other data centre in Jurong.

Without specifying names, the company said its new data centre is already “substantially pre-leased” to a community of leading global cloud service providers, local and global financial services providers, as well as leading Southeast Asian firms.

The opening of the third data centre brings its total committed investment in Singapore to more than US$1 billion (about S$1.3 billion), it said.

“Singapore is a well-established financial and business hub, and consistently ranks among the top data centre markets globally,” said Digital Realty’s chief executive officer William Stein.

“Expanding our footprint in Singapore will enable us to better help our customers enhance their digital transformation efforts and scale their digital business models regionally as well as globally.”

Source: CNA/sk(gs)

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