Sustainable data centers—The German Energy Efficiency Act: What data center operators need to consider now and in the future

Mayer Brown

Mayer Brown

The German Energy Efficiency Act (the “Act”) came into force at the end of 2023. As of January 1, 2024, energy efficiency obligations apply specifically to data centers. The Act provides for new rules on energy efficiency, energy reuse, waste heat, power supply from renewable energies and energy management systems, which are intended to make the operation of data centers more sustainable and the industry more innovative. These rules will come into force over the coming months and years. We provide an overview of the new rules for data centers and the relevant timeframe.

Area of application

The Act applies to all privately and publicly owned data centers with a non-redundant nominal electrical connected load of 300 kW or more. This is understood to mean the nominal connected load of the information technology and all technical building systems required for the operation of a data center. Excluded from the scope of application are data centers that serve to connect or link other data centers and that do not primarily process data (network nodes).

Energy efficiency

The rules on energy efficiency stipulate that data centers must achieve certain values for energy consumption effectiveness—staggered over time depending on the time of commissioning. The energy consumption effectiveness essentially relates to cooling; it describes the ratio of the annual energy requirement of the entire data center to the energy requirement of the information technology. The regulations on energy efficiency must be achieved after an optimization phase of two years after commissioning.

Meeting these requirements will force most operators of existing data centers to invest, amongst others, in the latest cooling technologies.

Waste heat utilization and reduction

In addition, new data centers that start operation on July 1, 2026, or after must have a minimum share of 10% reused energy (including waste heat). This value will gradually increase to 15% when operation starts on July 1, 2027, and to 20% on July 1, 2028, or after. These requirements must also be achieved after an optimization phase of two years after commissioning.

There are exceptions; for example, if a heating network operator does not accept a data center operator’s offer to provide reused energy at cost price, despite the infrastructure being located nearby. The data center operator must prove that it provides the necessary capacity, has a suitable infrastructure in place, has an investment plan, the financial framework conditions are regulated or the customer does not accept the energy despite an offer in line with market terms.

In addition, operators of both new and existing data centers are obliged to avoid waste heat in accordance with latest technology and to reduce the waste heat generated to the proportion of technically unavoidable waste heat that is possible and reasonable, taking into account technical, economic and operational concerns. These requirements will result in additional investments when planning new data centers. In future, the availability of a district heating network will also be a decisive factor in the choice of data center location.

Power supply from renewable energies

All data center operators, regardless of the date of commissioning, must cover 50% of the electricity consumption in their data centers from unsubsidized electricity from renewable energies as of January 1, 2024, and 100% as of January 1, 2027. The energy used may not come from existing electricity volumes already subsidized by the German Renewable Energy Act. The purchase of guarantees of origin (i.e., such that certify the origin from renewable sources) is sufficient in this respect, as it is based on the balance sheet and not the physical electricity. This is relevant for the Green Power Purchase Market.

Energy and environmental management systems

Operators of data centers are also obliged to set up an energy management system in accordance with DIN EN ISO 50001 or an environmental management system in accordance with EU requirements by July 1, 2025. Operators must continuously measure the electronic performance and energy requirements and continuously improve energy efficiency. For data centers with a nominal connected load of more than 1 MW and data centers in public ownership of 300 kW or more, validation or certification will be mandatory as of January 1, 2026. Data centers with an average annual energy consumption of more than 2.5 GWh must publish implementation plans that must list all economic energy-saving measures identified by the energy or environmental management system, or by an energy audit.

Information obligations and energy efficiency register

As of January 1, 2024, operators of data centers that offer services to customers are obliged to report the energy consumption directly attributable to the customer per year. In addition, operators must report information on the data center (name of the data center, name of the owner and operator, size class, nominal connected load, etc.) to the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (“BAFA”) by 31 March each year. BAFA will keep an energy efficiency register. Data centers with a non-redundant nominal connected load of between 200 kW and 500 kW must report for the first time from July 1, 2025, at the latest and from May 15, 2024, for higher connected loads.

Legal consequences and supervisory authority

The regulations on energy efficiency and the use of reused energy as well as the avoidance of waste heat are subject to fines. Violations can be punished with a fine of up to EUR 100,000. BAFA is the competent supervisory authority.


The Act places considerable demands on the operators of existing and future data centers. The requirements of the Act must be observed when developing projects for new data centers. In particular, the requirements on energy efficiency and the use of waste heat, which are punishable by fines, will require operators to make significant adjustments to their data centers.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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