Two years ago, we where wondering if Apple does not want truly green data centers. Now we might ask if this also applies to Facebook. Because it seems that Facebook is in fact not to keen on truly green data centers.
According to an announcement published in last January (2017), Facebook is going to build a new data centre in the Danish city of Odense, on the island of Funen (Fyn) west of Copenhagen. At a press conference with local authorities, the California-based tech company said this data centre to be the companies third such facility outside of USA.
And Facebook’s director of data center operations, Niall McEntegart, was quoted saying that “the Odense data centre will be one of the most advanced, energy-efficient data centers in the world”. It was also stated by Facebook management that the Odense data centre will be powered exclusively by renewable energy.
This is going to be an investment of more than USD 100 millions, and will provide 150 jobs when operational (in 2020). But in fact this new data centre will hardly be powered by 100% renewable energy.
Surely Denmark generates substantial amount of its electricity by utilising renewable sources (mostly wind). Also, Denmark has interconnectors with major hydro power countries, like Sweden and Norway. However, the fact is that very large share of the electricity people and businesses in Denmark consume, is generated by burning fossil fuels (mostly coal).
According to the most recent information from the European Union, (see table here), the renewable’s share of Denmark’s gross electricity consumption in 2014 was close to 45 percent. More recent information from the Danish transmission system operator (TSO), Energinet, tells us that the share of renewable energy in net generation of 2015 was close to 67%. And according to Energinet, even in 2025 fossil fuels will be an important part of Denmark’s power mix (as explained on the graph at left).
Having regard to the facts, it is hardly correct to say that a data centre located in Denmark, connected to the grid. will be run entirely on renewable energy sources only. Obviously Facebook intends to buy so-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 in Denmark or from a nuclear plant in Sweden.
The result is that every data centre in Denmark, connected to the grid, will in fact be using electricity from all kinds of power plants, including for example coal power stations. If Facebook truly wants to run its data centre on 100% renewable energy, the company should connect the data centre to 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 utilising hydro- and geothermal power (and some wind power). So instead of claiming its data centre in Denmark being powered by 100% renewable energy, Facebook should consider Iceland as the location for its next data centre in Europe.