Green Taxes Need To Catch Up With Data Centres

Peter Judge

Governents want to use green taxes to regulate emissions – but Peter Judge thinks they don’t understand the special role of data centres

Green taxes and legislation are in a parlous state in both Europe and the US. But there’s a bigger question here: are these laws even remotely suited to dealing with data centres? Do the legislators have any idea of the specific needs of the sector?

In both places, die-hard campaigners are keeping alive the need to reduce emissions. In America, there’s proposed national legislation  to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent before 2025, reported on Green Data Center News. But given the extra costs this would put on industry, and the heavy opposition which hit centralising legislation such as the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in the Senate,  those laws are unlikely to get passed.

carbon emissionCutting emissions, raising taxes?

Europe has already set carbon tagets to hit a 20 percent reduction (on a 1990 baseline) by 2020. But this aim looks difficult to achieve – and attempts to drive the region in the right direction using taxes, are being handicapped by rising energy prices, and special pleading by industry – which says it should be given a free hand in order to Save The Universe by reversing the recession.

And then there is the federal system.  Whatever Europe actually passes – the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) for instance – is further mangled when it is implemented in national laws by countries such as the UK.

In all this, the interests of the data centre community – and the wider tech sector – are generally overlooked.

But last week saw a new champion emerge in Britain. Industry body Intellect relaunched under the name techUK, with a mission to push for a sensible inclusion of tech industry interests in all aspects of the national discussion.

The group had already been pushing for better awareness of data centre concerns. “The legislative environment has not been, until very recently, aware of data centres,” program manager Emma Fryer said in a very cogent interview at Data Center Dynamics.

The fact is that governments think that all industry is something that uses energy and raw materials to make physical objects. Legislators are also aware of the service economy, to be fair, where human intelligence and information create value.

But data centres are very different from both of these: they are heavy users of electricity and other infrastructure and hardware, and they don’t deliver anything physical. They may also be driving reduced emissions elsewhere, which Fryer refers to as “cross-sectoral carbon transfers”.

Data centres can be a benefit to the local economy. We are told – and it may be true – they can also be a net reducer of carbon emissions. It’s certainly the case that they are more likely to cut emissions if the regulations promote this.

In Europe and the US, the data centre industry needs legislation that recognises and understands the needs and the potentials.

To make this happen, the industry needs to make sure its own house is in order – with efficiency kept at the top of the agenda – and then explain clearly to legislators what it can offer, and what it needs.

In Britain. I’m actually hopeful that techUK will help to do this.

A version of this article appeared on Green Data Center News.

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