Big Tech data centers are caught in European energy policy | Knowledge of the data center

(Bloomberg) — When Google wanted to build a new $1.1 billion data center in rural Luxembourg, the government championed the investment and helped the company acquire the land. Dutch authorities granted Meta Platforms Inc. permission for what promised to be even bigger, as part of the country’s ambition to become Europe’s “digital hub”.

With a squeeze in energy supplies due to Russia’s war on Ukraine, the political parameters are now changing for giant facilities. Both projects were put on hold after popular resistance from residents and environmental activists. But when the focus is on ensuring the lights stay on this winter, the computing and data storage that can gobble up a small town’s energy isn’t quite as hot for some European governments.

Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Denmark have joined forces to propose stricter efficiency measures at a level Meet energy ministers of the European Union on 27 June. The aim is to get all 27 member states to adhere to the same big tech rules to protect the EU’s green energy goals. This means putting a stricter check on facilities that handle everything from social media posts to business apps.

“If we do not act on data centers, we lose part of the potential for exiting gas and helping the energy transition,” said Claude Turmes, Luxembourg’s Minister for Energy and Development. territory and member of the Green Party.

Record prices are prompting EU countries to figure out how to consume less electricity. The dilemma is how to reconcile the bloc’s green agenda with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s priority of ensuring the EU leads the transition to a new digital world.

EU data centers already accounted for 2.7% of the bloc’s electricity demand in 2018 and continued digital transformation means more and more people are spending their time browsing the internet, shopping online online or streaming movies. If nothing is done, this figure could reach 3.2% by 2030, the The European Commission has declared — i.e. a consumption of nearly 100 terawatt hours. That’s about twice the power Greece used in 2019.

Ireland’s energy regulator, home to one of the largest data center groups, recently warned that consumers could potentially face outages without a new power grid access policy. He predicted that data centers could account for 23% of Ireland’s electricity demand by 2030.

The tech giants that run data centers in Europe say they already meet their own high green standards. Meta said its hubs have achieved net zero carbon emissions and are backed by 100% renewable energy. Microsoft Inc. aims to reduce water consumption, used for server cooling systems, in its operations by 95% by 2024.

The question is whether this is the right way to deploy green resources in the current climate, said Julia Krauwer, a technology analyst at Dutch bank ABN Amro. “To many individuals and politicians, the fact that we are using energy from newly built wind farms for the benefit of large-scale data centers seems unbalanced,” she said.

Push from policymakers to green the tech industry comes as the EU debates its massive package unveiled last year to implement an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target of at least 55% this decade compared to 1990 levels.

The plan will affect all aspects of the economy, introducing new targets to boost renewable energy and increase energy savings, forcing businesses to reduce their carbon footprint and forcing a switch to cleaner transport.

Then came President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February. In response, the EU announced it would phase out imported fossil fuels from Russia and proposed to further increase renewable energy and energy efficiency targets for 2030.

Luxembourg’s Turmes and his allies aim to introduce stricter reporting requirements for data centers, including on carbon emissions, use of renewable energy and efficiency of use of electricity, cooling and water. The five countries also want to empower the commission to set minimum performance criteria.

There are currently no binding European standards on energy efficiency in data centres, which are set to proliferate across the continent. The Netherlands, for example, is already home to large-scale facilities for Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft, and faces applications for 20-25 new or expanded data centers.

Meta, the owner of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, was planning its new investment in the Dutch town of Zeewolde, 55 kilometers (34 miles) east of Amsterdam. The company first received a warm welcome from politicians in 2019.

Three years later, the local party Leefbaar Zeewolde – or “Livable Zeewolde” in English – won a regional vote leading its campaign against the opposition at the establishment. Covering 166 hectares, the equivalent of around 230 football pitches, it would be the largest in Europe.

Just before the election, the Dutch government in February announced a nine-month block on permits for new data centers larger than 10 hectares and requiring more than 70 megawatts of power. However, the ministers exempted the Zeewolde region and the provinces where Google and Microsoft already host their hyperscale centers.

Meta’s center was to be “one of the most efficient in the world”, with almost every watt entering the data center to be used to run IT equipment, according to local authorities. Yet it was expected to use 1,380 gigawatt hours of energy, an amount comparable to twice the total consumption of Zeewolde, a town of around 23,000 people, according to development plans.

This highlighted the scale of the challenge for Europe when energy becomes more scarce, said Guus Dix, assistant professor at the University of Twente and climate activist for Extinction Rebellion who participated in the campaign against the Zeewolde data center. “We only have limited energy available, and we also have other needs, like greening our homes and becoming less dependent on Russian oil and gas,” he said.

Meta announced in March that it would end plans for the data center as it prides itself on being “good neighbours” and stressed the project’s importance of being a “good fit” for the community.

In Luxembourg, Google agreed to acquire agricultural land in the municipality of Bissen in 2017 before progress on its data center was delayed by opponents. Ecological Movement lost its main legal challenge trying to prevent the reclassification of land for industrial use rather than agricultural use, according to Blanche Weber, president of the campaign group. But since this year, no construction has started.

A Google spokesperson said the site is ready, but the company has no other plans at this time. The government wants the company to make a decision and says that if Google chooses to go ahead, it will have to deploy the most energy-efficient technology.

But even if the biggest companies are already using the latest innovations to reduce their environmental footprint, the transition to greening the sector may not be fast enough in all areas given the new emphasis on energy security, according Merima DzanicCOO of the Danish Data Center Industry, an association that promotes the industry in Denmark.

“Suddenly there’s a huge urgency because of the prices and because of the war that we’ve never really seen before,” she said. “At the end of the day, with the data center industry, it’s very much in the DNA to constantly focus on sustainability, because it’s in the best interests of businesses.”

Ramon J. Espinoza