South Africa wants data centres to go off-grid

South Africa’s Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) wants data centre providers to reduce their dependency on the national power grid.

This was revealed in its National Policy on Cloud and Data, published by communications minister Mondli Gungubele on Friday, 31 May 2024.

It noted that the government should consider incentives to encourage water and energy conservation.

“Currently, South Africa faces electricity supply challenges. Given that data centres operate 24 hours a day and consume vast amounts of electricity, reliance solely on the national grid may be insufficient,” it says.

“Due to water and electricity supply constraints and the high demand for these resources by data centres, data centre hosts and suppliers should have water and electricity backup to avoid service disruptions and reduce pressure on the grids.”

“Therefore, it is crucial for data centre owners and operators to implement additional alternative energy resources to prevent operational disruptions,” it added.

The DCDT said data centre operators should prioritise procuring their own electricity and water to ensure continuous operation and reduce their dependency on the national network.

“Data centre operators shall ensure the provision of their own electricity and water supply as a backup for their energy and cooling requirements,” the policy proposes.

It noted that the government may need to develop inventive schemes to encourage water and electricity conservation by data centre operators.

It also listed several other policy interventions related to South Africa’s data centre market, quoted below.

All data centres in South Africa shall be required to comply with the following:

Data centres must be built and operated in adherence to environmental legislation and building by-laws.

Data centres must not be built in restricted areas such as heritage sites, national key points, or land designated for land reform.

Data centres must not be located in areas prone to natural disasters or social disturbances.

Data centres must display or be able provide verifiable certification credentials to all potential customers.

Data centres used by the government should comply with a fault-tolerant design that provides a minimum uptime of 99.995%.

It should be noted that many data centre facilities in South Africa already have their own backup power and water supplies.

In July 2022, MyBroadband spoke to Africa Data Centre’s group executive, Angus Hay, about its Samrand facility.

Hay said it is one of the only tier four data centres in Africa, with tier four being the highest level of redundancy.

“Tier 4 is at the top of the list. It’s basically the benchmark in redundancy and availability,” he said.

“A tier 4 facility has fully redundant infrastructure, and that guarantees the highest availability and performance.”

For example, he explained that tier three facilities — also known as concurrently maintainable data centres — will have an additional generator as a backup in case one fails.

However, everything is duplicated in tier-four facilities.

One of Africa Data Centre’s facilities in Johannesburg

Hays explained that Africa Data Centres’ facilities derive their regular power supply from mains power that feeds from substations owned by local utilities.

“The backup power supply is typically operated with diesel generators, and each of them matches the scale of the power within the facility,” he added.

The data centre operator broke ground on a 12MW solar farm in the Free State in early April 2024 to power some of its facilities.

Its first phase will power Africa Data Centre’s Cape Town facility, with further phases planned to supply its Johannesburg data centres.

It said the announcement was a crucial component of a twenty-year power purchase agreement signed in March 2023 with DPA Southern Africa.

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

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South Africa wants data centres to go off-grid