Norway to host the world's ‘largest’ and cleanest data centre

The data centre, which could be located in the Norwegian town of Ballangen, is predicted to draw over 1,000MW of clean energy.
Published: Tue 29 Aug 2017

The Ballangen development will cover 600,000m2 and stretch over four storeys. The proposed development exceeds the size of a record-holding facility in Langfang, China.  According to the project manager, US-Norwegian company Kolos, the cool air and an abundance of hydropower will help to keep the large facility’s energy costs low.  

The company says it has already raised "several million dollars" for the project from Norwegian private investors. However, it is still working with a US investment bank to secure the remaining necessary funds.

What will make it the largest data centre globally, is the amount of power it intends to draw on to run its computer servers. Initially, the base will consume about 70MW of power. However, within 10 years, the firm intends to add enough computer server modules to draw on more than 1,000 MW.

Amazon's data processing division is already thought to consume about 1,000 MW of power in Ashburn, Virginia. However, its servers are spread across the area rather than being clustered together into one centre. Facebook has operated its own large data centre about 385km from Ballangen at Lulea, Sweden since 2013. But it is limited to 120MW. Other major single-site data centres generally consume less than 200MW.

Low cost, clean energy    

The Norwegian enterprise should benefit from the fact that large amounts of fibre optic cable were laid in the past alongside a railway built to transport mined iron ore to Sweden.

In more recent times, the EU and Norwegian government have invested in building large dams for hydroelectric projects and there are several wind farms nearby.

"It's quite literally the lowest power cost in Europe - and 100% of the power is renewable on one of the most stable grids in the world," said Kolos' co-chief executive Mark Robinson in an interview with the BBC. He continued: “It's in a region of the planet that is naturally cool and has ideal humidity, so we can keep servers cool without having to artificially chill them."

The building will have unlimited access to fresh, clean cool water as a secondary chilling source.

Kolos says it already has the support of five local mayors, and Norway's climate and environment minister Vidar Helgesen will take part in a public meeting the firm has organised later this week.

Helgesen said:  "We want to see many projects come to fruition and I am supportive of this just as I am supportive of any other. We have reduced our tariffs in order to welcome the establishment of data centres in Norway - and we welcome this initiative."

Competitive prices

Large cloud infrastructure service providers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google have been reducing their prices recently which have put pressure on other data centre operators.

Tech consultancy Gartner says that as a result, private endeavours have had to seek scale of their own in order to keep their prices competitive.

"There's always a danger with this kind of thing that providers rush to build capacity that outstrips what the market requires," added David Groombridge, research director at tech consultancy Gartner."But in terms of data centres, it's hard to see consumer-driven demands dropping off and there's the promise of the internet of things, with millions of sensors generating information that will need to be processed.

"So, unless there are radical new technologies that come along very quickly to help compress data, we will need the resources that these kinds of facilities provide."