COP28: Pankaj Sharma, EVP at Schneider Electric, on reducing emissions from data centers

Data centers must use the right technologies to continue reducing carbon emissions
The data center industry is responsible for around 2 percent of carbon emissions

Economy Middle East speaks to Pankaj Sharma, executive vice president (EVP) at Schneider Electric about the challenges and opportunities for achieving sustainability in the data center industry.

Sharma highlights the latest environmentally friendly innovations by Schneider Electric and their impact on reducing emissions in the industry.

With the increased demand for data centers, there is a need for a collective effort to ensure that data centers are built using the right sustainable technologies.

Economy Middle East: Given the growing emissions from data centers, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities for achieving sustainability in this sector?

Pankaj Sharma: The growing demand for data centers, especially in the AI environment, increases the need for compute dramatically.

When you think about the Graphic Processing Units (GPUs), that we use today, they create a lot more compute. While GPUs are very efficient, they still need more electricity, which means more energy. They also need more cooling; how do you cool down all these servers that have GPUs?

From a sustainability point of view, it is imperative that we think about what kind of technologies, software, and services are going to be delivered.  Then, we can still be building sustainable data centers. Meanwhile, there is this massive growth happening in compute led because of the data centers’ need for AI.

Economy Middle East: Schneider Electric has been a leader in sustainable data center solutions. Can you share some of the company’s latest innovations and their impact?

Pankaj Sharma: First of all, Schneider has been in the business of data centers for almost three decades now. It’s a large part of our company.

We work with some of the largest customers, whether they are hyper scalers, co-location companies, or enterprises…. Now, when you think about the technologies that need to be more and more sustainable, we start with hardware. So, think about the powertrain and the cooling technologies.

I’ll give you some examples of the powertrain. We have the medium voltage switchgear we use as a company that works on air. Some of the other companies’ medium voltage switchgear work on SF6, which is a very bad gas for the environment. When it comes to cooling systems, we have patented technologies like deconstructed chillers. They are specially made for AI environments, so that’s the technology part of hardware.

On the software side, we use digital twin technology through our software. Therefore, the idea there is that you will be able to perceive what the challenges could be in a real environment through a digital twin. Moreover, you will be able to manage it better.

Finally, we have services all around. We have something called EcoCare, where we’re able to provide a one-stop shop, including software and hardware for all of our customers in every single part of their solution.

On top of that, we have a sustainability business division. What that division does is work with our clients and help them set up their sustainability goals.  They work across industries. Additionally, we have software like the Resource Advisor, that helps companies know what their carbon emissions are and how they can manage their scopes one, two, and three. Then, we provide them with solutions so that they can get better and get on their sustainability mission.

Pankaj Sharma

Economy Middle East: What are your predictions for the future of data center sustainability in the context of the growing demand for computing power?

Pankaj Sharma: I can only tell you what I know. I’ve been in this industry for more than two decades now. I’ve seen all the rises and falls starting with enterprise data centers, co-locations, and e-commerce. Then, we had blockchain and metaverse and now we have AI.

Today, when you think about the data center industry, the carbon emission is around 2 percent. This may seem small, but it’s equal to the airline industry so it’s pretty substantial.

With the substantial growth in the aerospace industry, we have to continue putting in the effort to reduce carbon emissions. Now, the example I gave earlier on technologies, hardware, software, and services technologies are available today.

We need to collectively as a team put in the effort, not just Schneider. All the companies, academia, public organizations, and governments, need to make sure that we continue building these data centers. However, we need to focus on using the right technologies so we can continue reducing carbon emissions. I think we have a very bright future ahead. A future where we can utilize AI to make our lives simpler, better, and even more intelligent. We can also focus on reducing carbon emissions from these data centers.

Read: COP28: Michael Izza, CEO of ICAEW, on businesses achieving climate targets

​About Pankaj Sharma

Pankaj Sharma serves as the executive vice president of the Secure Power Division at Schneider Electric. Most recently, he served as the senior vice president of the Home & Business Networks (HBN) line of business within the Secure Power Division from August 2016 to December 2019.

Since joining Schneider in 2000, Pankaj has held a variety of roles including business vice president for India, Japan, South Korea, and East Asia; as well as, roles in marketing & sales.

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