The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our perception of what is normal and acceptable. We still do not know the full impact of the crisis, but what we do know is that it is already shaping our future.

The crisis has reinforced the huge importance of the sectors at the forefront of innovation. Data centers have seen record traffic, with workers being designated as a critical workforce. Secure data infrastructure has been key to keeping video calls connected and social networks operating. UK telecoms networks have seen a huge strain on their services with an increase in data traffic by 24 percent. But ultimately, hardworking operations teams and existing equipment and infrastructure have enabled billions of people to maintain some normality during the crisis.

Global disruptions have always fostered booms in innovation and Covid-19 is no different. Now, with the “new normal” emerging and a step change in how we communicate becoming embedded in our work and social lives, the business leaders at the forefront of the data and telecoms sector must create solutions faster than ever to help to solve this monumental global challenge.

Building Back Better

As the conversation now turns to how we can recover economically, we are also addressing the other burning global disruptor; the climate emergency.

Covid-19 has exposed the brittleness of a global economy built around the excessive burning of fossil fuels and a linear consumption model of use, discard and replace. Now the discussion is turning to Building Back Better, a movement focused on redesigning a global economy in the wake of this crisis - one which prioritizes sustainability and empowers us with the ability to tackle climate change. But what does ‘Better’ mean?

Fortunately, there is a ready-made model that we can look to - the circular economy. Circular principles enable products to be reused, updated or repurposed rather than replaced, ensuring greater resilience, huge waste reductions, financial savings and, most of all, long-term sustainability.

Building circularity into data centers

Telecoms technology, and the data centers that underpin the sector, will be the cornerstone on which we will Build Back Better. It is impossible to imagine our lives without the influences of phone and internet connectivity, and as this pioneering sector dominates our economies and leads the way in innovation, so too must it lead a circular green recovery.

Data demand is surging, as tech developers realize the sheer amount of capacity needed to make the move to faster network technologies like 5G. But data centers are incredibly energy-intensive. By 2030 it is predicted that data centers will need 3,000 TeraWatts of electricity each year to operate – almost as much as the entire USA uses annually (3900 TeraWatts).

Batteries provide vital support to ensure that energy-guzzling data centers are backed up with an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). Traditionally, data center operators have used lead-acid batteries, which usually need to be replaced every five years.

Many operators are now turning to lithium batteries thanks to the advantages that they offer.

Lithium batteries have a longer shelf life than lead-acid, and can also operate at a higher temperature than lead-acid batteries – an important factor when you consider that data centers can reach temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius. This is significant, as cooling can account for up to 30 percent of a facility’s power. In fact, by 2025 it is expected that lithium batteries will make up around 35 percent of the market share for UPS batteries.

But the traditional lithium batteries employed are usually welded or glued together, making individual components difficult to replace. If one part fails, the whole battery is thrown away – often with more than 80 percent of its potential life left unused.

We can gain a lot of benefits through applying the circular economy model to the lithium battery. By being able to repair, repurpose and reuse the components within the battery pack prior to recycling, it is possible to maintain and service batteries rather than replace them, reducing both waste and cost over time.

With regular servicing, circular economy lithium batteries can last up to 25 years, compared to a normal lithium battery lifespan of 5 to 10 years, reducing maintenance and change-out costs for data center operators.

Circular batteries also support green jobs. The UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has recently called for a 'green jobs revolution’ to spearhead the UK’s economic recovery. Fostering battery repair specialists, in the same way that the MOT/repair garage sector works for vehicles, would support the growth of a skilled employment market centered around energy and clean technology.

An alternative approach – Building Back Circular

Data is the foundation of our economy. By championing a tech-driven future, data centers accelerate both innovation and social progress and will be a primary driver to enabling a net zero carbon future.

By Building Back Circular and embedding innovative green solutions like circular economy batteries into the data center sector, we can have a positive impact on the industry, whilst laying the foundations for long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability – a new society underpinned by sustainable growth.