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Scotland’s Biggest Data Centre Will Be The UK’s First On Fully Renewable Power

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The Queensway plant in Glenrothes hopes to serve government IT using 9MW of biomass-powered electricity

The first data centre in the UK entirely run from locally-generated renewable energy will open in Glenrothes, Scotland next year.

Using around 8MW of electricity, it will also be Scotland’s largest data centre, the director of the company building it told TechWeekEurope. 

AOC Group’s planning application for the a £40 million data centre was welcomed by Fife Council, which is expected to be one of the main tenants in the colocation space, which is built in a disused part of a paper mill site, and powered by electricity generated from wood waste by a biomass converter. The centre is expected to go live in 2015.

Biomass powers Glenrothes data centre
Queensway glenrothes green data centre arial

“News of this development for Glenrothes is particularly welcome not only in terms of the employment opportunities it will bring but in enhancing the Council’s plans to regenerate the entire estate,” said Deputy Council Leader and spokesperson for economy and planning Lesley Laird.

Fife Council has worked with AOC on the proposal, and AOC director Alan O’Connor told TechWeek he expects public sector bodies to take up the first phase.

The data centre will be built alongside the Tullis Russell paper plant, where a biomass combined heat and power (CHP) plant capable of producing up to 65MW of power from plentiful wood waste has been built by RWE Innogy.

“We have a cable direct from there to our plant,” said O’Connor and, should the renewable power fail, the industrial site has plenty of power available to keep the data centre going.

The plant is considered an important part of Scotland’s IT infrastructure, and will provide 250 construction jobs followed by 50 long-term engineering and technology posts. As well as Fife Council, O’Connor expects provide data centre space for local universities, which are desperately short of power, he told us.

Situated by the A92, Queensway can connect to fibre links that go up to St Andrew’s University, and potentially be hooked to both the Janet academic network and the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN), said O’Connor.

“There’s fantastic connectivity, he said. “We employed a company to do due diligence, and find where the forgotten cables are. They found big dark fibre connections adjacent to the site.”

Customers will get their own “modules” within the data centre, within which they will separate power distribution and cooling systems connected to the outside air. AOC will use a partner to build these modules, and is currently looking at possible firms, including IO, which has worked with data centre owners including CenturyLink.  In total it can hold up to 1500 high performance computer racks, and O’Conner says he has names down for about 40 percent of that already.

The building will be built to “BREEAM outstanding” and O’Connor says the modules inside will have a guarenteed power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of less than 1.15.  The use of renewable energy should benefit its customers’ carbon accounting, reducing data centre emissions by up to 80 percent.

Previous efforts

The UK has had a previous green data centre, proposed by Infinity in Suffolk and using biomass from local farms. However, this failed to take off as businesses in the South of England were hesitant to move their servers so far from London, even though it too had plenty of network connectivity.

Local generation is becoming an important direction for data centres which want to reduce their dependence on the grid, while also cutting their carbon footprint. Apple has made its data centres carbon neutral, a project which includes some large solar energy products, while Google uses some local generation, along with deals to help local utilities generate more renewable power and eBay has become a big user of fuel cells in Utah.

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