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Does Apple not want truly GREEN data centers?

Denmark-Electricity-Sector-Mostly-Coal_March-2015Is there such a color as coal-green? This question comes in mind when reading about Apple’s new data center in Denmark. Apple recently announced it will construct two new large data centers in Europe, both to be “run on 100 percent renewable energy”. According to a press release from Apple, “the new facilities will run entirely on clean, renewable energy sources from day one”. These are interesting statements, having in mind that both data centers will be connected to a grid which mostly delivers electricity from fossil fueled power production. Here we will consider if a data centre located in Denmark can truly be said to run all the time on 100 percent renewable energy.

Denmark’s own power mix is dominated by coal

Denmark-Coal-Plant-StudstrupværketDenmark generates substantial amount of green energy. According to the most recent information from the European Union (EU), the renewable’s share of Denmark’s gross electricity consumption in 2012 was close to 40 percent. More recent information from the Danish transmission system operator (TSO), Energinet, tells us that the share of renewable energy in 2013 was somewhat higher than in 2012, but still less than half of the total electricity consumption (47.5 percent).

Denmark’s electricity is mainly generated by coal. The Danish government has plans to decrease the importance of coal, but coal still constitutes for more than half of the fuel consumption of Danish power stations. Most of Denmark’s renewable energy comes from wind, which is of course somewhat a fluctuating and unreliable energy source. In 2013 the share of wind in the electricity consumption was almost one-third (32.7 percent).

Connections to other countries are based on economics rather than green energy

Denmark’s electricity grid is not an island, but connected with its neighbouring countries by several large cables. Therefore, Denmark sometimes exports electricity and sometimes imports electricity. Weather it is exporting or importing electricity depends on the price difference within the larger market area. Normally, Denmark exports electricity during night (because of its large wind power capacity) and imports during the day (when demand goes up and Norwegian and Swedish hydropower stations are utilizing the water in the reservoirs). However, imports and exports of electricity of course always depends very much on how the wind blows in Denmark.

Denmark imports power from coal-, hydro-, and nuclear power stations

When Denmark imports electricity, it comes via cables from Germany, Norway, and/or Sweden. The imported electricity can, for example, be generated by fossil fuels (major coal power in Germany), by nuclear power (nuclear stations in Sweden and Germany), or by hydropower (especially from Norway, but hydropower is also a major source in Swedish power generation).

Denmark-Electricity-Imports-and-Exports-2013

Lately, most of the imported energy has been from Germany (as shown on the diagram at left, which is from the Danish TSO). Coal is the most important source of electricity generation in Germany, accounting for close to half of the generation. In Germany, only ¼ of the generation comes from renewable sources on average. Natural gas and nuclear energy account to close to ¼ of the generation. Thus, electricity imported to Denmark from Germany normally increases the share of fossil fuels and nuclear power in the Danish electricity consumption.

Data centers in Denmark are dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear power

It is highly unlikely that a data centre located in Denmark, connected to the grid.  will be run entirely on clean, renewable energy sources only. For the end-user in Denmark it is impossible to know how the electricity he consumes was generated. Even more important is that Denmark’s electricity mix is dominated by coal power stations.

Denmark-Electricity-Consumption-Mix_1990-2013-and-forecastIn fact every date centre in Denmark can be expected to mostly be run on coal power. Of course companies, including those running data centers, can try to find a generating company that only produces electricity from renewable sources and buy its electricity from that company. But the electricity put into the transmission grid can not be isolated – so to speak – from other electricity on the grid. Therefore, it is of course impossible for the buyer to promise that he is only using or consuming green energy.

It is possible to buy what is called Green Certificates, which are a tradable commodity proving that certain amount of electricity is generated using renewable energy sources only. However, this does not mean that the electricity being consumed by the buyer of the certificate is from renewable sources – it might as well be from a coal power station or from a nuclear plant. The result is that every data center in Denmark, connected to the grid, will in fact be using electricity from all kinds of power plants, including for example coal power stations.

Iceland is the best option for GREEN data centers

The only way for a major data center being truly able to run on 100 percent renewable energy is to take power from a grid that only delivers electricity from renewable sources. In Europe probably no grid comes as close to this as in Iceland. Iceland produces close to 99.9 percent of its electricity by utilizing hydro- and geothermal power (and some wind power).

Norway is in a similar situation, producing almost all the power from hydro resources. But Norway also imports power from other countries, thus distributing coal power and nuclear power to end-users. So Norway is not quite as green option as Iceland is.

Regarding Denmark, it is obviously not a very green option at all. The environmental accounting may tell us that a company there has a very low net carbon footprint, but in reality the electricity is not only from renewable sources at all. If Apple or any other firm in Denmark wants to run 100 percent on renewable energy it would in fact either have to disconnect from the grid – or set up its operation in Iceland.

World class wind efficiency

In 2014 Landsvirkjun’s wind turbines efficiency was 44 percent! This is much higher than the world’s  average of 28 percent, meaning that each megawatt (MW) of a wind turbine in Iceland is generating substantially more electricity than wind turbines do elsewhere in the world. Here you can see real-time data from the wind turbines now operated by Landsvirkjun.

Iceland-Wind-Power-Landsvirkjun-Burfellslundur-Wind-ParkIt shall be stressed that Landsvirkjun still only operates two wind turbines. Utilizing wind power for generating electricity into the grid is still in its infancy in Iceland, as Iceland has so far mostly been focusing on low-cost hydro- and geothermal power sources. Last year (2014) was the  first full calendar year in which large wind turbines were operated in Iceland. These are two 900 kW turbines from Enercon and they are located near Landsvirkjun’s hydro power stations above Búrfell in Southern Iceland.

These two windmills were developed as a research project. In addition to the earlier mentioned high efficiency, it is also important that the operational availability of the two turbines in 2014 was almost 99 percent and 97.5 percent, respectively. The positive outcome of the research project is an important step in confirming optimistic views about possibilities of wind power in Iceland, as described in a report by Ketill Sigurjónsson to the Ministry of Industries and Innovation in 2009.

Due to these positive results, Landsvirkjun now has started planning for a large wind park in the area. The wind park is expected to have a total power capacity up to 200 MW and will be the first major utilization of wind power in Iceland. In the future, wind may become an important source for Iceland’s renewable energy production. Iceland’s extensive hydro- and geothermal sources have already made Iceland the world’s largest power generator per capita and the wind will be an interesting addition.

Build, own or operate data centers in Iceland

The Icelandic national power company Landsvirkjun has published a new video, explaining how data center operators in Iceland are using clean, renewable energy to power some of the world’s lowest total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) data centers. Landsvirkjun is Iceland’s  largest electricity generator, processing around 75 percent of all electricity used in Iceland. Iceland-data-centers-well-connected-by-optical-fiber-cablesAccording to a report by BroadGroup Consulting, Iceland is a highly attractive place to locate data centers. BroadGroup‘s, analysis show that on the key issue of power (encompassing everything from costs to quality to regulation) Iceland scores higher than leading global data centre locations such as the US, UK, Sweden, Singapore and Hong Kong. The report states that  power costs for data centers in Iceland can be half of those in Scandinavia, and significantly more competitive than other European countries. And what is even more important, Iceland’s power costs remain very likely to stay much lower than other countries. It is particularly important that data centers constructed in Iceland have the opportunity to cap the prices for ten years or even longer for greenfield projects. Opera-Software-logo-Data-Centre-IcelandIn addition to the low prices, it is an important fact that the power in Iceland is 100 percent from renewable sources. Iceland produces electricity using exclusively hydropower, geothermal energy and onshore wind. These are sustainable, environmentally green resources with zero carbon trade-offs. This makes Iceland an ideal location for addressing corporate responsibility considerations. On telecoms, existing connectivity (Greenland Connect, FARICE and DANICE) are being substantially upgraded. Significant new capacity is planned to be added over the next several years. The telecoms pricing attractiveness and strong telecom connections are well illustrated by existing users in Iceland, such as Opera Software. You are welcome to contact us at the Icelandic Energy Portal for more information on building, owning and/or operating data centers in Iceland.

UK affirms interest in IceLink interconnector

HVDC-Letter-UK-to-Iceland_2015-01-29_17-55-03_GBG_January-2015Iceland’s Minister of Industry, Ms. Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, recently received a letter from Mr. Matthew Hancock, UK’s Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

In his letter, Mr. Hancock expresses his interest in an electric connector between Iceland and the United Kingdom (UK).  The letter is dated January 24th 2015 and reads as following:

Dear Ragnheiður Elín,

You met Michael Fallon in spring last year [2014] to discuss the possibility of an electricity interconnector between Iceland and the UK. I have taken over as Energy Minister and wanted to write following a meeting I had recently with one of the potential developers. I was very pleased to hear that a new Steering Committee is being set up to help you consider the impacts of such a major project. If it would be helpful, my officials stand ready to assist the work of this Committee, for example by providing information on the UK regulatory regime.

Studies we have commissioned indicate that an electricity interconnector between our two countries could provide economic benefits to us both and I am therefore interested in examining such a project further. The UK Government is considering options for sourcing low carbon, secure and affordable electricity post-2020 and an interconnector between our two countries might be one of the options we could examine in this process.

Matthew-Hancock_UK-Minister-Energy-Climate-Business-InnovationI would welcome your own views on the benefits of such a project and would of course, be very happy to discuss this with you if you have the opportunity to come to London at any time. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the next steps.

Then the letter ends with Mr. Hancock’s signature [“Matt”]. It will be interesting to see how this possible project will develop in the next months.