Green data centres may have gone out of fashion as a topic of conversation, but rising energy costs, increasing demand for computing power, environmental concerns, and economic pressures are continuing to drive the market.

The data centre industry currently consumes around 1.5 percent of the world’s energy. The result is that the industry is undergoing major changes as it struggles to keep energy demand in check while maintaining growth.

A new report by Pike Research predicts that the worldwide market for green data centres will grow from $17.1 billion (£10.5bn) in 2012 to $45.4 billion (£28bn) by 2016, at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 28 percent.

Dominic Philips, managing director of UK-based green data centre company Datum, said that “the lion’s share of data centre expenditure” will go on making data centres more efficient through “investment in newer infrastructure to replace the existing data centre estate”.

Many data centre operators are experimenting with renewable energy sources and innovative cooling techniques to drive down power consumption, as well as investing in virtualisation and cloud computing technologies, both of which have green benefits.

Virtualisation can help to improve power efficiency in the data centre, by packing more compute capacity into less hardware, but other components of the data centre infrastructure also need to be optimised to support more dynamic and higher-density computing environments.

Cloud computing, meanwhile, delivers energy efficiencies through economies of scale, but new metrics and new levels of transparency are required if its impact on the environment is to be adequately assessed, the report finds.

According to Pike research director Eric Woods, however, there is no single technology or design model that makes a data centre green. Instead, the green data centre is connected to the broader transformation that data centres are undergoing.

This transformation encompasses “technical innovation, operational improvements, new design principles, changes to the relationship between IT and business, and changes in the data centre supply chain,” said Woods.

Global economic and political factors are also having an impact on regional data centre growth, and public policy recommendations and industry sharing of best practices are also contributing to the evolution of the industry. However these influences also add complexity.

Earlier this year, the green data centre consortium Green Grid published a report summarising the key energy policies across 12 key EMEA countries, and advising data centre managers on how best to respond to legislation to make their operations more efficient.

“The report provides policy transparency across all the countries covered, and shows how operators are subject to increasingly demanding building regulations aimed towards reducing energy use and carbon output,” said Harkeeret Singh technical chair of the Green Grid in EMEA.