Arctic Data Center Designed to Break Records for Size and Efficiency

NEWS ANALYSIS: Norway’s abundant hydroelectric power, cold climate and cool water make the Scandinavian nation location for the world’s largest data center with near-record efficiency.

Norway Data Center

In some ways, Scandinavia is a data center designer’s dream location. The region has weather cool enough so that the computers can be chilled with natural air.

It’s got plenty of cold water in its fjords while electricity is cheap and abundant. Couple that with a skilled and educated workforce as well as a stable economy, it’s a natural setting for a mega-scale data center project.

This explains why a number of large data centers from companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Facebook have already set up shop in Sweden and Denmark. Now, with an ambitious plan from data center venture Kolos, it’s coming to Norway.

There, in the small city of Ballangen, Kolos co-CEO Mark Robinson told eWEEK that the company plans to build the 600,000 square meter (about 6.5 million square feet) facility on land formerly occupied by an airport. The land is on Norway’s west coast in an area of fjords and rugged mountains. The four-story facility will supply a gigawatt of power for computing with an estimated PUE (power usage effectiveness) of 1.04.

Co-CEO Havard Lillebo said the PUE could go even lower if cold water from an adjacent spillway is used for cooling. Power usage effectiveness is a measure that compares the total power consumption used by a data center against the power required to run the computers. A PUE of 1.0 is ideal because it would mean that no power was required to provide cooling, lighting or other facility services.

The availability of hydroelectric power and wind power in that part of Norway means that the data center will be run entirely on renewable energy. And the energy there is cheap. Robinson said that Kolos will be paying between 2.5 and 3.5 Euro cents per kilowatt hour, which is about 25 percent of the average price of electricity in the U.S.

Kolos has a goal of not adversely affecting the environment through its activities. This is the reason for the focus on renewable energy, which extends to the design for its backup generation system, which will use fuel cells rather than diesel generators. The byproduct of fuel cells for power generation is just one thing—pure water.

In addition, the Kolos facility will be partially buried on the shores of the fjord, with the building roofs covered with grass as natural insulation. Lillebo said that this was being done for energy efficiency and to reduce the visual impact of the data center. The facility will be located in an area below the town of Ballangen, where it would be easily visible by most of the residents. 

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...