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Data Centers Site Selection

Which are the main decision drivers when companies are selecting location for data centers? This was the topic of an interesting presentation given Mr. Phil Schneider in Reykjavík earlier this summer. The event attracted high number of audience, which is not surprising as the date centre service in Iceland has great possibilities for strong growth.

Site Selectors Guild

Phil-Schneider_President-of-Schneider-Consulting_Chairman-of-the-Site-Selectors-Guild-in-Iceland-Askja-Energy-Partners-2015-2Mr. Phil Schneider is the President of Schneider Consulting LLC and Chairman of the Site Selectors Guild. The Guild* is an association of the world’s leading site selection practitioners. Guild members provide location strategy to corporations across the globe and for every industry, sector and function.

Mr. Schneider divided his presentation into three main parts. Firstly, he discussed the most important general issues that dictates the choice of companies regarding location of their business units. Secondly, Mr. Schneider described how this relates to the location of data centers. And thirdly, he discussed the challenges facing Iceland in attracting more investment in data centers in Iceland.

Strong Growth Potentials for Iceland

The data centre sector is growing rapidly all around the world. This trend creates interesting opportunities for Iceland in increasing diversity in the Icelandic economy. Due to extensive hydro- and geothermal resources, Iceland is able to offer more competitive long-term electricity contracts for data centers than available anywhere else in the western world (in addition, the Icelandic electricity is 100% green power).

Advania-Green-Data-Centre-IcelandThis is an important incentive for locating data centers in Iceland. Furthermore, Iceland has highly qualified workforce for this sector and a competitive tax system. However, Iceland needs to consider its marketing strategy and must present the necessary information in a way that is easily accessible. clear, and understandable.

Risk Factors and Misconceptions

Although site selection for data centers aims at being based on a thorough assessment of all the variables that may be relevant, it is quite common that misunderstanding regarding risk factors becomes a a major decision factor.  According to Mr. Schneider, companies often jump to wrong conclusions regarding risk factors. In the case of Iceland, foreigners may for example have the perceived feeling that Icelandic is a risky location due to earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. In fact, natural risks are a less threat to business operations in Iceland than in for example most areas of the USA. In this context, it is tremendously important to present correct and accurate information to avoid wrong assumptions or mistaken image.

The Icelandic Energy Portal Plays an Important Role

Phil-Schneider_President-of-Schneider-Consulting_Chairman-of-the-Site-Selectors-Guild-in-Iceland-Askja-Energy-Partners-2015-5In his lecture Mr. Schneider emphasized the importance of good access to clear and reliable information about the Icelandic business environment and the energy sector. He especially referred to the Icelandic Energy Portal as such a source, regarding data center site selection. In the coming months we, at the Portal, are going to emphasize even stronger the issue of locating data centers and storing data in Iceland. Note that Mr. Schneider’s presentation can be watched here (starts at 36:22).

* Founded in 2010, the Site Selectors Guild is dedicated to advancing the profession of international corporate site selection by promoting integrity, objectivity, and professional development. Members are peer-nominated, vetted, and must demonstrate a significant amount of location advisory experience. Guild Membership is the highest standard in the site selection industry.

Electricity Tariffs to Aluminum Smelters in Iceland

In this article you will find information about the electricity prices which the three aluminum smelters in Iceland paid to the Icelandic power company Landsvirkjun in the period 2005-2014. The information is based on several Icelandic and international reports.

  • The Norðurál smelter (Century Aluminum) pays the lowest tariff.
  • The Fjarðaál smelter (Alcoa) pays a slightly higher price than Norðurál.
  • The tariff to the Straumsvík smelter (Rio Tinto Alcan; RTA) is presently the highest.

Very low tariffs to Norðurál (Century Aluminum) and Straumsvík (Alcoa) are the reason for extremely low average price of electricity to aluminum smelters in Iceland. With regard to the low tariffs, it is not surprising that Century Aluminum has stated, that its Grundartangi smelter in Iceland “generates significant free cash flow in virtually all price environments”. The same situation is likely to apply to Alcoa’s Fjarðaál smelter, as it pays on average only approximately 10% higher price for the electricity than Norðurál (Century) does.

Since late 2010, the Straumsvík smelter of RTA has paid a substantially higher price for the electricity than the other two smelters. Before 2010, RTA enjoyed the lowest electricity tariff of all the aluminum smelters in Iceland. With the new contract between Landsvirkjun and RTA in 2010, the base price increased and the power tariff was no longer linked to the price of aluminum.

So far, the new contract between Landsvirkjun and RTA is the only energy contract with aluminum smelters in Iceland where the electricity tariff is not linked to aluminium price. Instead, the price in this new contract is adjusted according to US Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Although the tariff to RTA is much higher than to Alcoa and Century Aluminum, the price to RTA is quite modest. For example, it is much lower than the average price of electricity to aluminum smelters in the United States (USA). And the said tariff is similar or even lower than the average power tariff to aluminum smelters in Africa.

Aluminum-Electricity-Tariffs-to-Smelters-in-Iceland_2005-2014_and-World-Comparison_Askja-Energy-Partners-2015The graph shows the average annual electricity price paid by each of the three aluminum smelters in Iceland to Landsvirkjun, in the period 2005-2014. All prices on the graph include transmission. The red columns are the electricity price to Norðurál at Grundartangi (Century Aluminum), the green columns are the electricity price paid by the aluminum plant at Straumsvík (Rio Tinto Alcan; RTA), and the light blue columns are the tariffs to Fjarðaál in Reyðarfjörður (Alcoa). Note that readers should presume a confidence interval of 5%.

The tariff to Straumsvík (RTA) is currently approaching 35 USD/MWh. In 2014, the smelter in Straumsvík paid almost 45% higher power tariff than Fjarðaál (Alcoa), and close to 60% higher price than the aluminum smelter at Grundartangi (Century).

Landsvirkjun’s average price to the aluminum smelters in 2014 was slightly above 26 USD. Same price for aluminum smelters in Africa that year was about 30% higher, and comparable prices to smelters in the USA and Europe were close to 45% higher. For more information about average power tariffs to aluminum smelters in the world in 2014, we refer to our earlier post; Electricity Tariffs to Aluminum Smelters.

Historically, all electricity sales by Landsvirkjun to the aluminum industry has been linked to aluminum prices (until 2010). Therefore, the tariffs and Landsvirkjun’s revenues have often fluctuated dramatically – according to changes in price of aluminum on the London Metal Exchange (LME). Such fluctuation can clearly be seen on the graph above, especially with regard to the period 2008-2010. Note also that in 2006-08 the price of aluminum was exceptionally high, hence the power tariffs to the smelters in Iceland were unusually high in that period.

From 2019, more contracts with the aluminum smelters in Iceland will be expiring. With regard to the electricity price in the recent contract between Landsvirkjun and Straumsvík (RTA) and other new contracts with smelters in the world, it can be expected that the minmum tariff in renewed contracts with the smelters will not be under 35 USD/MWh (in 2014 prices), and possibly somewhat higher. We at Askja Energy Partners will be presenting frequent news and update on this interesting subject.

Electricity Tariffs to World’s Aluminum Smelters

The graph below shows the average price of electricity to aluminum smelters in different regions of the world (in 2014). The graph both illustrates  the relative amount of aluminum production in the major aluminum production areas/countries, and the electricity tariffs. All prices on this graph include both electricity and transmission cost

Aluminum-Electricity-Tariffs-World-and-Iceland-Landsvirkjun-2014China has become the world’s largest aluminum producer. This is an interesting fact, not least when having in mind that the smelters in China pay on average much higher electricity tariffs than smelters elsewhere in the world.

Iceland is represented by red color on the graph. Note that the column for Iceland includes only the power sold to smelters from the National Power Company (Landsvirkjun). Two other power firms in Iceland also sell power to one of the aluminum smelters in Iceland (there are three smelters in Iceland, owned by Alcoa, Century Aluminum, and Rio Tinto Alcan). However, Landsvirkjun is by far the main electricity provider for the smelters in Iceland. Thus, the average electricity price to the aluminum smelters in Iceland is very close to the average price the smelters pay to Landsvirkjun. Which was just above 26 USD/MWh in 2014.

Aluminum production in Iceland is relatively unimportant in the global context (about 0.8 million tons of the total of close to 54 million tons in 2014). What is more interesting, is the fact that the electricity price the smelters pay Landsvirkjun (the average price) is one of the lowest in the world. In 2014, it was close to being exactly the same as the average price to smelters in the Middle East (which are mostly smelters in the Persian Gulf States, taking advantage of very cheap electricity from natural gas power stations). And the average price to smelters in Iceland is only slightly higher than the average price to aluminum smelters in Canada, and much lower than the tariffs to smelters in the USA.

However, the average price to aluminum smelters in Iceland is likely to increase substantially in the coming years – when major contracts are up for renegotiation.  Next such power contract is a contract between Landsvirkjun and Century Aluminum, regarding the Norðurál Smelter at Grundartangi. The present contract expires in 2019.