On 30 May 2024, as part of Singapore’s Green Data Centre Roadmap, Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority announced that Singapore aims to add at least 300 megawatts of data centre capacity in the near term. The Singapore government previously announced a moratorium on data centre development in 2019 to evaluate how to manage the growth of data centres in a sustainable manner in line with its goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The moratorium was lifted recently in 2022. This announcement therefore represents a significant step forward in the data centre space in Singapore.

Allocation of data centre capacity to be based on sustainability and economic value 

In allocating the new data centre capacity spaces, the IMDA will prioritise both sustainability and economic value. Senior Minister of State, Janil Puthucheary, has also mentioned at least another potential 200 megawatts of data centre capacity being unlocked for operators which deploy green energy technology. In total, this represents a potential increase of 35% of Singapore’s existing data centre capacity of 1.4 gigawatts. 

While details on how to apply for the increased capacity have not yet been released, data centre operators which are keen to expand their presence in Singapore should be prepared to demonstrate to the IMDA how they intend to harness green technology and maximise energy efficiency. 

Energy and water efficiency as key targets in the next 10 years

As part of its roadmap, the IMDA is urging data centre operators to implement and use energy and water efficient solutions. 

  • Metrics used to measure energy-efficiency: The IMDA has set a target for all data centres (including existing data centres) to achieve a Power-Usage-Effectiveness (PUE) of less than or equal to 1.3 at 100% IT load and for only energy-efficient compute/IT infrastructure to be used in the next 10 years. The IMDA intends to refresh and introduce energy efficiency standards and certifications, such as refreshing the Green Mark for DCs (GMDC) certification by end-2024 and introducing standards for compute/IT equipment energy efficiency and liquid cooling by 2025. 

The roadmap sets out examples of how data centre operators may improve energy efficiency, such as adopting liquid cooling and applying Singapore’s Tropical Data Centre standard to raise operating temperatures within data centres.

  • Metrics used to measure water-efficiency: Alongside energy efficiency, the roadmap highlights the importance of managing water efficiency. The IMDA has identified a median Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) index of 2.2 m3/MWh for DCs, and targets a decrease to WUE of 2.0 m3/ MWh or lower over the next 10 years. These efforts include optimising water consumption in cooling towers, which account for up to 97% of a data centre’s water consumption, and recycling blowdown water.

Schemes and grants for data centre operators seeking to improve energy efficiency 

The IMDA plans to offer grants and schemes to incentivise the implementation and use of energy efficient solutions by data centre operators and users. The following schemes are available to data centre operators and users seeking to improve energy efficiency:

  • The Economic Development Board’s (EDB) enhanced Resource Efficiency Grant for Emissions, which provides co-funding support corresponding to the level of emissions reduction. 
  • EDB’s Investment Allowance for Emissions Reduction, which provides for a tax exemption on qualifying capital expenditure incurred, for eligible projects that result in measurable and verifiable carbon abatement.
  • A new Energy Efficiency Grant, to be introduced by end-2024, for the adoption of energy-efficient compute/IT equipment by enterprise end-users. 

Adopting liquid cooling solutions 

The roadmap quotes a recent study which found that liquid cooling reduces total energy consumption of data centres by 10% compared to fully air-cooled data centres. 

While data centres should deploy the most appropriate cooling solution for their specifications, the roadmap lists various liquid cooling technologies which could be considered by data centre operators (particularly as the IMDA has proposed introducing liquid cooling standards by 2025), such as rear door heat exchanger, direct to chip cooling and immersion cooling. 

Data centre operators could also explore implementing hybrid models where zones in data halls have different cooling methods depending on rack densities, or immersion cooling which requires specialised compute/IT equipment and facilities and could yield up to 90% cooling energy savings. 

Transitioning to green energy

In addition to improving energy efficiency, the roadmap also outlines the need to leverage low-carbon energy to meet the significant power intake required for data centre operations. The capacity allocation exercises will specifically seek proposals on using viable low-carbon energy sources and the IMDA has expressly stated that it will provide operating parameters for such low-carbon energy sources with other agencies like the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Energy Market Authority.

Commentary

As a regional data centre hub, with over 70 data centres, Singapore’s Green Data Centre Roadmap represents its commitment in creating a sustainable digital economy.  For data centre operators, employing energy and water-efficient technologies is no longer just environmentally friendly but a crucial strategic element in securing their place in Singapore's digital growth landscape. 

Those seeking to expand data centre footprint in Singapore would need to place sustainability at the forefront of their data centre design and operations. These could include forging partnerships with stakeholders such as green energy suppliers, or with academia for R&D purposes. Pushing the envelope when it comes to experimenting with newer cooling technologies or with adopting best-in-class energy-efficient hardware and software could pay off for data centre operators, particularly if they can advocate for energy efficiency to their own end-users in order to streamline their IT ecosystem. 

In addition to reaffirming Singapore’s vision to be a leader in sustainable data centre development, the roadmap also paves the way for stronger collaboration and partnerships across the entire ecosystem, including the government, data centre operators and their end-users, research and academia, and energy players.