While the Nordic region is commended as a safe and appealing data center location due to its buoyant business landscape, world-leading green credentials, robust connectivity and low temperatures, it doesn’t come without its challenges.
This year the Nordics region will see temperatures of -15oC to -30oC over the winter months, but cold weather-related obstacles for data center construction and maintenance could result in vital facilities not being operational for the entire winter.
We are already seeing Icelandic snowstorms sweeping across the region and making their way across Europe. Of course the freezing temperatures come as no surprise, and we are more than used to working through such treacherous winters, particularly in the northern part of our region, but this year’s conditions make for the perfect storm. What’s more, unpredictable weather patterns sit among a plethora of undesired consequences of climate change.
The unfortunate reality is that this is all now coupled with a global pandemic and therefore serious issues could arise relating to construction of new data centers if not addressed soon enough.
Delayed projects and supply chain disruption
While operators and providers in the region may have planned construction phases, like excavation, to be carried out before the ground freezes, Covid-related delays may mean that such stages have been pushed back. It is at this point where data center providers need to implement temporary heating to thaw the frozen ground for excavation to continue. However, the earlier effects of the pandemic are now starting to have significant consequences on the ground. Back in spring we saw supply chain issues being reported across the global data center market. Now, as the industry attempts to return pre-Covid levels, concerns still remain that the supply chain will not be able to provide the same support as agreed prior to lockdown. Temporary solutions power and heating could offer an answer here.
Balancing comfort with sustainability
Despite the region’s experience in employing seasoned construction professionals accustomed to working in snowy conditions, there inevitably comes a point when exposed sites must close, even without the pandemic. Last year we saw multiple sites close their doors for up to three months, for example. Should this be the last resort that a data center is faced with, temperature control solutions must be sought to maintain the site at a certain temperature. Where lies an additional challenge is generating enough heat to meet demand, at the same time as acting sustainably. Operators must therefore consider greener technologies. Combined heat and power (CHP), for example, allows operators to reuse heat from engines for higher efficiency. This would be well-suited to a data center that might have to close but requires a stationary heating solution as site equipment is placed into storage.
For facilities further on through the construction phase, rooms are needing to be heated to certain temperature for contractors carrying out installations to meet local legislation and aid safe and productive work. Providing temporary power and heat may also be vital to ensuring ambient conditions are kept stable, so installation of electrical and mechanical infrastructure conforms to manufacturers’ guidelines. In fact, Aggreko is seeing a bigger increase in enquiries of such a nature this year. Again, to meet future sustainability targets, considering equipment that runs on more sustainable fuels and produces lower emissions is crucial – this is an area we are investing heavily into having this year launched hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) as a drop-in fuel, as well as a fleet of Stage V compliant generators.
Another major challenge for the Nordics in the context of the pandemic is resource. While it has always been difficult to source the level of people needed to support exponential growth in the sector, travel restrictions and quarantining rules are having a further impact on the people who travel here, predominantly from Ireland. Should the weather prevent their return to the Nordics, data centers will be faced with a significant resourcing challenge. Outsourcing expertise and relying on supply chain partners will be crucial here.
The data center has been propelled into the spotlight as the pandemic encourages the increase of remote working and information from governments, fast-tracking the growth trajectory of the industry. However, freezing temperatures in the Nordic region may cause serious issues for data center construction already delayed by Covid-19. Solutions do exist to help circumnavigate such a complex cyclone of challenges – strategic hire can play a key role.
Greger Ruud is the Data center Development Manager at Aggrekoin the Nordics as well as a member of the Board of Directors for the Swedish Data Center Industry Association.