Africa datacentres – if you build it, they will come

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We all need some good news. In a time where the world is facing a myriad of challenges, be it financial, geopolitical or environmental, growth and development certainly equate to good news.

Africa’s datacentre market is growing at an unprecedented rate, driven by a soaring demand for digital services, AI (artificial intelligence), crypto currencies and cloud computing. According to recent statistics, the datacentre market is projected to reach over $7 billion by 2028, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR 2024-2028) of 7% .

It is good news indeed, as Africa’s burgeoning digital landscape also presents significant opportunities for investors, technology companies, and local businesses. However, there’s a caveat, datacentre planners must ensure that these facilities are built with the continent’s power provision, local economy and geographical challenges in mind.

Local knowledge is power

Current datacentres are positioned in a crowded market where supply often exceeds short-term demand. This means that local suppliers often have to meet the extremely complex requirements of mammoth hyperscalers which can be prohibitively expensive in some instances simply inaccessible.

In order for the African datacentre market to flourish, local business expertise must be utilised. For one, local providers understand the financial constraints and specific needs of African businesses and can offer tailored solutions at more affordable prices. Similarly, by catering to the budgets and requirements of local enterprises and SMEs, these providers can tap into a much broader customer base and achieve more sustainable growth.

Another important step is considering the physical datacentre facility.  Here, existing buildings like older factories, railroad buildings etc can be repurposed, and intelligent software solutions implemented to optimise resource management and operations whilst driving down costs.

From an energy management perspective, these buildings can be retrofitted with load balancing features, service optimisation, and adaptive power allocation which can enhance facilities’ efficiency while ensuring optimal performance during peak usage periods.

Prefabricated modular datacentres are also a compelling alternative solution to the African datacentre market. It offers a dynamic response to the need for rapid deployment, standardisation and sustainability.

As the name suggests, these datacentres consist of pre-built modules that house various components critical to datacentre functionality. The modules fall into categories such as power, cooling, and IT.

A major advantage of prefabricated datacentres is the efficiency and predictability it brings to the construction process. Unlike traditional datacentres, where one must contend with the variability of handling material and availability, prefabricated datacentres can be produced in local, controlled factory environments.

The sustainability balancing act

As mentioned earlier, power provision is a significant stumbling block in the proliferation of datacentres in Africa.  Whilst not a challenge unique to the continent, datacentre providers will have to be prudent when planning facilities and its expected power consumption.

And even if countries’ grid infrastructure can handle new capacity demands, it is facing another challenge: decarbonisation. In the US, for example, new sustainability standards – targeted at datacentres – are currently under consideration or have been enacted.

Also, let us not forget power reliability. The 2022 Uptime Report on IT downtime found that the cost of downtime continues to grow:

  • One out of five datacentres experienced a “serious” or “severe” outage in the last three years, and 80% of all datacentres experienced some type of outage.
  • Sixty percent of datacentre outages cost at least $100,000, while outages costing over $1 million grew from 11% to 15% in just three years.

This scenario is prevalent across the globe and Africa is not the exception. Fortunately, when building datacentres, a distributed energy resources (DER) solution, if you will, can be built to stabilise supply. These include:

  • Renewables such as solar and wind
  • Battery energy storage systems and UPSs.
  • Fuels cells, including hydrogen and other nascent or emerging resources.
  • Combined cooling, heating, and power.
  • Right-sized natural gas or diesel generators.

By managing the above DERs using technology such as Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor, your datacentre operation will be improved, demand response optimised, and the system can be setup to run autonomously (island mode) or as part of the grid.

About the author

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Ben Selier

Secure Power VP- AAF

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