Digitalisation of societies will help to achieve the 1.5 degree climate target. Digitalisation reduces carbon emissions: e-invoices have lower emissions than paper invoices, virtual meetings reduce the need for travel, a sharing economy leans on digital services, artificial intelligence and big data optimise the energy efficiency of buildings, and so on. However, the use of data and cloud services also increases energy consumption. Electricity is needed not only to transmit data, it’s also needed to cool the data centres that house the servers.
Data centres already account for about three percent of the world’s total energy consumption, and the growth will continue as digitalisation advances. Finland and other Nordic countries can offer data centres reliable, carbon-neutral electricity that significantly reduces the climate impacts of the data centres.
Data centres generate a lot of heat. Typically, the heat generated by servers is wasted because it can’t be re-used. However, in Finland and other Nordic countries a major share of the waste heat can be recovered and used to heat commercial buildings and homes through the district heating system. The Espoo Clean Heat project supporting the City of Espoo’s climate targets is a good example of a win-win situation. A big, new data centre would significantly accelerate Espoo’s emissions reduction; the waste heat generated by the data centre could replace the remaining coal that is still being used for heating.
Big climate-friendly data centres are significant investments in cities and in the economy and wellbeing of Finland overall. International data centre companies’ investments in server facilities in Finland are, at best, of the same scale as Finnish forest industry investments. In addition to the labour force needed during construction, big data centres provide permanent jobs for hundreds of people. Data centre companies also generate tax revenue for municipalities.