Climate Change

How digital technologies will help the EU meet its energy efficiency targets

two men walk through Greenergy data centre in a story about EU energy efficiency

The EU's Energy Efficiency Directive aims to cut the bloc's energy consumption by 11.7% by 2030. Image: Greenergy

Matthias Rebellius
Member of the Managing Board; Chief Executive Officer, Smart Infrastructure, Siemens AG
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  • The EU's Energy Efficiency Directive will help maximize gains in the building sector, which accounts for about 40% of its energy consumption.
  • The newly revised legislation aims to reduce energy consumption by 11.7% by 2030 and puts a focus on data centres and public buildings.
  • Digital technologies will play an important role in helping EU member states meet their energy efficiency targets.

The race to make Europe a net-zero economy is on. But how do we get there? What do you see when you picture a carbon-neutral world? Electric cars all over your neighbourhood, solar panels on every roof?

Now let’s turn the question around: What gets in the way? While the use of fossil fuels in transport is an important hurdle, there is one sector which often flies under the radar of public perception: buildings.

In the European Union (EU), the buildings sector is responsible for about 40% of energy consumption and 27% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, making it the bloc’s largest single energy consumer.

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So how do we turn this around? When it comes to energy consumption it’s not just about the ‘what’, it’s about the ‘how’. This means that it’s not enough to switch to electric propulsion systems and renewable energy sources. It’s about making sure that none of this energy goes to waste.

According to the International Energy Agency, doubling progress on energy efficiency by 2030 would lower CO₂ emissions from fuel combustion by almost 11 gigatons – almost one-third of current global energy consumption and emissions.

In the face of such vast room for improvement, the EU has recently revised its Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), the goal of which is to reduce the EU’s energy consumption by 11.7% by 2030, based on a 2020 reference scenario.

Energy efficiency has been enshrined as one of the main levers to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This is an important milestone, because the cheapest and cleanest energy is the energy we do not use. So, in a way, energy efficiency is the first fuel, and it has zero carbon impact.

With a focus on data centres and public buildings, the revised EED entered into force in October, giving EU member states two years to translate this policy into national law.

Why energy efficiency of data centres matters

Putting the energy efficiency of data centres into the spotlight finally addresses the divide between the technologies that power our digital age and international ambitions for decarbonization.

The International Energy Agency reports that between 2015 and 2021 alone, internet users increased by 60%, and internet traffic by 440%. As a result, data centres – on which many web-based technologies rely – have become one of the fastest growing industries.

And they are power hungry by nature. Data centres operate around the clock and their power requirements don’t experience the same kind of low and peak times as industrial plants – they are always on. This makes energy management all the more important.

The EED brings in a new obligation for data centres with an IT load higher than 500kW to report on their energy performance, and introduces new obligations for waste heat recovery.

At the Greenergy data centre in Estonia, the new EED requirements have created another opportunity to shine. The 14,500 square metre facility in Tallinn runs on renewable energy and is designed to beat the industry average in terms of power usage effectiveness. The key to its success? Digitalization – or to be precise, an integrated data management software.

Creating a building management platform for such a complex facility is a bit like casting a world-class orchestra. Thousands of data points from critical and non-critical systems need to be connected and controlled to form one coherent cluster. And when you’ve managed that, the real work begins.

Next you have to conduct the symphony and iron out inconsistencies. Where can you tweak energy consumption on a site that requires consistent power supply? What can you redirect to avoid power losses?

This is where intelligent software solutions come in. Between 20% to 40% of a data centre’s energy use can go towards cooling and ventilation, and white space cooling optimization offers a way to address this.

Greenergy implemented a Siemens solution that uses an advanced machine-learning model to analyse the effect of cooling on specific areas of a data centre. The resulting influence map can limit energy use to only what’s necessary – with a significant impact on energy costs.

Today, Greenergy is the most efficient data centre in the Baltic region. With the help of building automation technologies, it can even distribute excess heat to a district heating company.

How to make public buildings more efficient

It’s hard to overstate the potential of digitalization for turning sustainability strategies into action and this is as true for new data centres as it is for existing public buildings.

In the EU, around 35% of buildings are more than 50 years old, and 75% of this building stock is energy inefficient. And while public buildings have always been the key focus of the EED, its revision introduces new obligations and widens its scope.

Member states will be called upon to renovate 3% of floorspace in publicly-owned buildings. They will also have to reduce energy consumption from public bodies by 1.9% each year, compared to 2021.

The new audit and energy management obligation, based on energy consumption rather than just size, will also be a strong driver for change across sectors, including data centres. Small and medium size enterprises are expected to be affected by this.

In this context, the French government has already made changes to its energy regulations for buildings to meet sustainability targets. For example, heating invoices must be individualized, measuring every apartment’s real-time consumption instead of a proportional share based on the size of a flat.

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How is the World Economic Forum facilitating the transition to clean energy?

The French energy services company IDEX offers a solution, which combines the digital twin of a building with sensor technology to generate the necessary data for this new reporting scheme. But collecting the sensor data in a secure, reliable and simple way, in order to scale the solution, has been a challenge.

IDEX worked with Siemens to solve it. By installing 100 Connect Boxes in buildings across the country, the company started collecting data and controlling their equipment remotely via the cloud, resulting in better monitoring, automation and efficiency gains. Today, IDEX uses Connect Boxes to manage data collected by more than 26,400 devices across France.

Digitalization key to improved energy efficiency

Connecting the real and digital worlds in this way is how technology companies can have a real impact on our global decarbonization journey.

Digitalization will be a powerful enabler for decarbonizing built environments in a way that is both scalable and economical – be it in design, optimizing operations or in identifying the best retrofit investments.

Harnessing this power is not something that is far ahead in the future; it can be done now. Imagine your city, your neighbourhood, your street – imagine what it would be like to live, work and study in buildings that drive rather than stand in the way of the energy transition. What do you see?

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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