How Australia will become a clean data superpower

Article originally published in GovTech Review

As the public and private sectors shift to net zero, government and industry must collaborate to ensure a smooth transition to safe and sustainable data centres.

Data centres are at the forefront of the technological revolution. As recent cyber breaches have demonstrated, our world now depends on data and its safe storage, and increasingly, a key part of data security is sustainability. Sustainably conscious strategies ensure that data centres stay physically protected while having the technology to transition to a net zero future.

The federal government has recognised this through its Australian Data Strategy. This, and the fact that it holds large amounts of sensitive data, mean it must show leadership in the space, ensuring that the sovereign data of Australians is stored in a safe and environmentally conscious way. What, then, are the policy settings that can make this happen?

First, power consumption and emissions need to be tackled. Data centres are known to be excessive consumers of power, representing up to 4% of Australia’s total energy consumption and approximately 10% of the world’s energy, according to engineering firm Aurecon.

That is an issue in itself but it becomes a major problem if that energy is sourced from burning fossil fuels and means the location of new data centres is crucial. Not only must it be built in a physically secure location, but access to reliable and clean energy sources and a forward-thinking government are also imperative.

Put simply, successfully creating a truly world-class sustainable data centre is only possible where policy and regulation support an abundance of renewable power.

Nowhere is better positioned for this than Western Australia, with hundreds of gigawatts of renewable power projects in the works and an attractive policy landscape for data centre operators and their customers.

WA benefits from the cheapest power in Australia, averaging $64/MWh in the June quarter, compared to an unprecedented $284/MWh on the east coast National Electricity Market, according to the Australian Energy Regulator. Of this electricity, only 38% is generated from coal in WA, versus 59% in the eastern states. All this is great news for energy users and companies seeking to reduce their emissions, who demand clean, green and affordable power, as it is typically their largest operational fixed cost.

Data connectivity is also critical, and governments need to ensure their jurisdictions are connected to the world. With the support of the state and federal governments, Perth now boasts multiple subsea cables linking Australia to the rest of Asia–Pacific, considered the growth engine of the world and home to some 4.3 billion people: 60% of the world’s population.

Our new $1 billion, 96 MW data centre in Perth will capitalise on the favourable policy landscape in WA and significantly reduce the comparative carbon footprint and overall environmental impact to help provide a new level of accountability and transparency across the industry.

To make real change, data centre operators and government need to set concrete goals. According to the Australian Government, the average Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of a state-of-the-art data centre in Australia is 1.5. To help enable the Australian Government’s 2030 and 2050 net zero emissions targets, our target is even lower, with a PUE as low as 1.05. We also feature a wastewater-free design inspired by the Pawsey Supercomputer in Perth, which was recently recognised as the fourth greenest supercomputer on earth and the most powerful in the southern hemisphere.

Addressing wastewater is hugely important to us as we develop our first project and should be a priority for government when considering policy levers around data centres. A comparably sized data centre with traditional cooling can use up to five million litres of potable water per day. That’s enough to supply a city of 50,000 people. The Western Australian Water Corporation predicts a 40% decline in rainfall by 2060, and the amount of water flowing into the city’s dams has fallen from an average of 300 billion litres a year to just 25 billion litres. Water is our most precious resource, and it’s rapidly disappearing before our very eyes.

Thanks to its favourable policy settings, we see WA as having the potential to become a clean data superpower, and we intend to be a key part of that story. WA also benefits from low electricity prices after long-term policies to ensure its consumers and businesses share the rewards of its natural resources.

WA has set a model that others can follow, which will help the state and federal governments to reduce their carbon emissions via green data storage while strengthening Australia’s reputation in sustainability and digital infrastructure technology.

Image credit: