Science & Technology

South Africa Pushes Data Centres to Go Off-Grid for Energy Independence

South Africa’s Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) has unveiled a policy encouraging data centres to become less reliant on the national power grid. This move aims to ensure continuous operation amid the country’s electricity supply challenges.

In a move to address the pressing electricity supply issues in South Africa, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) is urging data centres to reduce their dependency on the national power grid. This initiative was outlined in the recently published National Policy on Cloud and Data by Communications Minister Mondli Gungubele on 31 May 2024.

The Push for Off-Grid Solutions: The new policy highlights the critical need for data centre providers to seek alternative energy resources. Data centres, which operate 24/7 and consume significant amounts of electricity, place substantial pressure on South Africa’s already strained power grid. The DCDT emphasizes that reliance on the national grid alone is insufficient to meet the operational demands of these facilities.

Given the electricity and water supply constraints, the policy suggests that data centre hosts and suppliers must have reliable backup solutions to prevent service disruptions. This includes implementing alternative energy resources and ensuring continuous operation independent of the national grid.

Government Incentives and Conservation Efforts: To support this transition, the government is considering various incentives aimed at promoting energy and water conservation among data centre operators. These incentives are intended to encourage data centres to invest in sustainable practices and technologies that reduce their environmental impact.

The policy also outlines several mandatory requirements for data centres in South Africa:

  • Compliance with environmental legislation and building by-laws.
  • Prohibition of data centres in restricted areas, such as heritage sites, national key points, or land designated for land reform.
  • Avoiding locations prone to natural disasters or social disturbances.
  • Providing verifiable certification credentials to potential customers.
  • Ensuring a fault-tolerant design with a minimum uptime of 99.995% for data centres used by the government.

Existing Efforts and Future Plans: Many data centres in South Africa have already taken steps to secure their own backup power and water supplies. For example, Africa Data Centres’ group executive, Angus Hay, highlighted their Samrand facility, which is one of the few tier four data centres in Africa. Tier four data centres boast fully redundant infrastructure, ensuring the highest availability and performance.

Hay explained that tier four facilities have everything duplicated, from power supplies to cooling systems, providing an unparalleled level of redundancy. This guarantees that even in the event of a failure, operations can continue without interruption.

In addition to these existing measures, Africa Data Centres recently initiated the construction of a 12MW solar farm in the Free State to supply power to its facilities. The first phase of this project will power the Cape Town data centre, with further expansions planned to support their Johannesburg sites. This development is part of a twenty-year power purchase agreement signed with DPA Southern Africa in March 2023.

Africa Data Centres CEO Tesh Durvasula stated, “This announcement represents a significant stride in our initiative to energise South African data centres sustainably, advancing our objective of achieving carbon neutrality.”

Looking Ahead: As South Africa continues to grapple with electricity supply challenges, the DCDT’s policy underscores the importance of self-sufficiency for data centres. By encouraging the adoption of alternative energy sources and sustainable practices, the government aims to ensure the continuous operation of these critical facilities, safeguarding the nation’s digital infrastructure.

This policy not only addresses the immediate energy concerns but also sets the stage for a more resilient and sustainable data centre industry in South Africa. As data centre operators increasingly turn to renewable energy and innovative backup solutions, the country’s digital future looks poised for greater stability and efficiency.

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