How do data centres impact climate?

Data volumes are growing exponentially worldwide, and the use of cloud services is on the rise. This will quickly expand the need for powerful data centres. Finland has excellent opportunities to mitigate the climate impacts of digitalisation: we can offer data centres clean electricity and use the waste heat generated by the centres to replace coal-based heat production.

Woman on laptop

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.

Espoo Clean Heat -project

Fortum and the City of Espoo, Finland, have committed to carbon-neutral district heating during the 2020s in the network that operates in the Espoo, Kauniainen and Kirkkonummi regions. The development work has since been accelerated with an intermediate goal to discontinue the use of coal in 2025. The accelerated project for carbon-neutrality in 2020's is called Espoo Clean Heat.

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Fortum, Espoo, and Kirkkonummi data centre project advances climate targets

Data volumes, digitalisation, and cloud services are growing everywhere. More and more data centres are needed to accommodate this, and data centre operators are looking for the best locations to build them. Since new data centres will be built in any case, why not attract them to Finland? They offer cities a unique opportunity to reduce emissions from heating and support the economy.

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