Newly introduced 5G mobile communications will drastically increase the energy demands of data centers, according to a German study sponsored by utility provider E.ON.

The report (PDF, German) from RWTH Aachen University, found that by 2025, high-bandwidth 5G networking would drive such a boost in demand for data that the energy consumed by German data centers would increase by 3.8 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year, the equivalent of the electricity consumed by the 2.5 million people in Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Dortmund.

Energy thirst

This thirst for energy will be triggered by new technical possibilities, the study says, including organizations building their own mobile networks, and a surge in people streaming movies. These possibilities will be enabled by small local Edge data centers, and those Edge data centers will demand power.

E.ON board member Karsten Wildberger hopes it will be possible to build in renewable sources for these facilities, right from the start: “By 2030, up to 13 percent of the world’s power requirements will be consumed by data centers. We need sustainable energy supply for that." He says it is possible to do that already: “We are supplying data centers with clean energy or building highly efficient, decentralized generation facilities onsite, such as combined heat and power plants or fuel cells - often combined with PV systems or wind energy.”

In the Frankfurt area, network operator Syna, an E.ON subsidiary, commissioned a transformer station to secure the power supply of planned data centers in the region, and is now looking into ways to cover these energy requirements sustainably.

E.ON is also promoting the reuse of waste heat. At present, 13 billion kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity are converted into heat in German data centers, the company says, and virtually all of this is released into the environment. The RWTH study found that only 19 percent of data centers use part of their waste heat, usually to heat their own buildings and hot water.

Wildberger says the industry will have 8TWh of waste heat available by 2025, and wants to see it used: “Today, waste heat from data centers remains unused far too often. Data centers should be used to supply heat to housing estates and entire city districts. This is a very concrete and important contribution to coupling the electricity and heat sectors, which we implement together with our customers.” The company has a heating and cooling network product called ectogrid.

The company also plans to help individuals curb their energy waste with an awareness campaign called ‘Green Internet Day.’ On 8 January, E.ON will stop its usual activities on the Internet and on social media channels, and instead point to green Internet solutions.

The data center study was based on a literature search carried out by Prof. Madlener of the Institute for Future Energy Consumer Needs and Behavior (FCN) at RWTH Aachen University.