Green data centers and Greenland: Some thoughts about economic development

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

A flurry of stories in the press about new data center stock in Iceland tells me that a PR counter-offensive is well under way and working! It won’t be too long before the word Eyjafjallajökull is buried deep in the travellers’ subconscious as journalists are flown in and out of Reykjavik with a minimum of disruption.

As a Dane, I can only admire the way that Iceland has gone about turning its climate and geothermal resources into commercial gold from the data center industry. It got me wondering whether the business of data centers could take a more central role in any government’s plans for economic development. What difference could data centers make, for example, to another former province of Denmark – Greenland?

Greenland is the world’s largest island. Most of the country is covered by ice, in places up to 4km thick. Most of the country’s 56,000 inhabitants are clustered in small communities along its 44,087 km coastline. The climate is Arctic, and overall the average temperature even in the warmest months does not exceed 10 degrees C.

Harsh weather conditions means there is an indispensible need for heating; the large distances between towns and villages means that it is difficult to share resources and therefore most have their own power stations and backup supplies. In 2006, Greenland’s energy consumption was 275MWh, although, carbon emissions per capita were on the rise.

The country is largely populated by Inuit people who survive by hunting and fishing, although many are struggling as fish stocks have become depleted. The BBC website says “Inhabitants face severe social problems, notably unemployment, alcoholism and HIV/ Aids”. According to a report, “Greenland urgently needs to develop new growth industries to consolidate future income”.

Which is where the data center industry could step in: unlike Iceland, Greenland does not benefit from fibre connectivity. However, given the fact that the US has highlighted the strategic importance of Greenland to its security (together with its increasing importance to Northern trade routes) this presumably is not insurmountable. Like Iceland, Greenland has a climate which is dependably cold, an ideal free cooling environment. It has space, plenty of space. Pull up Greenland on Google Maps and you’ll be surprised how much space it has!

What’s more, Greenland has a strong suit in renewables; calculations have shown that the country has a theoretical hydro power potential which could be sufficient to supply 70% of Europe with electricity. The small population means that power could be largely uncontested for investors.

There is the question of skills and human resources. This probably presents a real challenge since those that have left Greenland to further their education are unlikely to return to the island whilst their own prospects are better served elsewhere.

Tags: ,