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Iceland promotes clean-energy data centers
by Staff Writers
Keflavik, Iceland (UPI) Feb 13, 2012

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Icelandic officials say they are tapping the country's abundance of green energy resources to establish it as a global player in data storage center industry.

Ossur Skarpheoinsson, Iceland's minister of Foreign Affairs, last week hailed the opening of a second new "green" data center in the country to be powered completely by geothermal and hydroelectric resources -- a fact that makes them attractive to European customers seeking to reduce their carbon footprints.

"This is a new chapter in the industrial history of Iceland," Skarpheoinsson told the online technology trade publication TechWeek Europe about the Thursday opening of 5,300-square-foot Verne Global data center. The facility is in a former NATO air base at Keflavik, Iceland.

The new center joins the 28,000-square-foot Thor facility that opened at Hafnarfjordur, just south of Reykjavik, in 2010.

Data centers are energy-intensive enterprises. The amount of electricity needed to heat and cool them as they preserve the optimum operating temperatures for the storage devices inside is prodigious. A study released by Stanford University last year estimated data centers consume 1.3 percent all electricity produced across the globe, including 2 percent of the United States' supply.

The Verne Global data center has potential access to more than 100 megawatts of power, all of it sourced from Iceland's renewable hydroelectric and geothermal sources. About 72 percent of Iceland's electricity comes from renewable energy and geothermal heat, which is used to heat 87 percent of Icelandic houses.

European customers who have good connectivity to Iceland can use the data centers as means of reaching their carbon-reduction goals as well as a way to save costs on electricity, backers say.

Because Iceland has an oversupply of renewable energy, its data centers offer stable, long-term electricity rates as low as $43 per megawatt-hour, TechWeek reported.

The Icelandic centers are also touting a favorable regulatory climate for data due to the country's status as "near EU" for data protection purposes.

"In the future, [data centers] will be one of the major ways to export green energy beyond the borders of Iceland," Skarpheoinsson told another technology publication, ZDNet UK. "My vision is that during this century we will move away from this basic production of aluminum smelters that are important to our economy and use [the energy] for a green economy."

One of the first customers for the Verne Global data center is Iceland's GreenQloud, which calls itself "the world's first truly green public computing cloud." The company says it offers hosting and storage for the European and North American markets and can act a single hub for both markets, all of which will be based in the Keflavik data center.

"The IT industry is responsible for over 2 percent of global greenhouse emissions," company Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Eirikur Hrafnsson said in a statement.

"So GreenQloud's primary focus is on tackling that problem by delivering public cloud services that run exclusively on renewable energy sources."

Despite advantages in the form of abundant renewable energy, the Icelandic data centers are at disadvantage because of their remote location in the North Atlantic, physically separated from their potential European clients.

But industry backers hope that isolation will be reduced with the coming of the "Emerald Express," a $300 million undersea fiber-optic cable stretching from Ireland to New York with a spur to Iceland.

The 3,200-mile cable is to be finished late this year and will be capable of carrying data at speeds of 60 terrabits per second, TechWeek reported.

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