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ABB solutions power Europe’s greenest data centre in Norway

Image: Adobe Stock / Connect world

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With the help of ABB technology, Norwegian data centre Lefdal Mine, plans to become Europe’s biggest, with the smallest environmental footprint.

The Lefdal Mine data centre, operational since May 2017, is built 150 metres into a mountain in what was formerly an underground mine for excavating the mineral olivine – also known as the gemstone peridot – a green, high density-mineral used in steel production. Located on Norway’s west coast, between Måløy and Nordfjordeid, the six-story mountain hall facility sets a new standard for the data centre industry.

The massive data centre is powered exclusively by renewable energy which is produced locally, whilst being cooled by water from a nearby fjord, which is the second largest in the country with four glaciers connected to it. ABB has supplied the critical power infrastructure, which provides clean energy generated by four glacial hydropower stations and two windmill farms with a combined capacity in excess of 300MW. 

Data centres are among the biggest consumers of energy. Yet Lefdal Mine is remarkably energy efficient, because it uses cold water from the 565 metre-deep fjord as a coolant. The data centre is located below sea level, eliminating the need for expensive high-capacity pumps to lift the fjord’s water to the cooling system’s heat exchangers.

The result is that the data centre’s cooling solution will have power usage effectiveness (PUE) – the industry standard for energy efficiency – of between 1.08 and 1.15 for a 5kW rack, making it among the greenest data centres in the world, with 30-40% energy savings over traditional data centres.

“Cooling is crucial, because these servers generate huge amounts of heat. Because water cooling is so efficient, these server containers can run up to 50kW of power, where you would normally expect just 7-8kW with traditional air cooling,” said Mats Andersson, marketing director, Lefdal Mine Data Centre.

Data centres are the backbone of our daily life. They store all the data generated by smart devices, businesses and social media. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to check for traffic, or the weather, or see the latest updates of people we follow. Tech firms, large and small, also rely on data centre storage to serve their customers worldwide. Therefore, reliability is everything in a data centre. Maintaining secure operations 24 hours a day is crucial, with redundant systems in place to ensure the data centre is always operational.

To meet the powering challenges due to the physical size of the facility, ABB has built a medium-voltage backbone for the entire data centre. To meet any emergency situation, ABB also provides a decentralised UPS (uninterruptible power supply) system, which means that each section inside the data centre has its own UPS installation. If there is a problem with the grid, the UPS kicks in within a couple of milliseconds and ensures reliable power supply until the backup generators come online.

ABB has been an integral partner from the beginning of the project, providing power supply solutions and extensive knowledge and expertise for such a challenging engineering project. Providing a powering system that can remain reliable as the centre grows – to 200MW from the current 10MW in phases over the next three years – is of particular importance. When its growth is complete, Lefdal will be among Europe’s largest data centres.

“At ABB we are very proud of our participation in this truly innovative project,” said Ciaran Flanagan, global segment leader data centres. “The quest for energy efficiency never ends and is not just a desire, it’s now a responsibility and one we take seriously at ABB. We are truly delighted to be part of the team.”

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About 120,000m2 (1.3 million square feet) of white space is currently available in the data centre, much of it in containers shipped by Rittal and parked in the former underground mine passages. “ABB was one of the first to be involved in the project, because everything starts with power. You need transformers, you need generators. So, based on the good relations we have, we started to discuss how to get ABB on board,” said Andreas Keiger, executive vice president, Rittal.

Lefdal Mine data centre is coming up at the right time – when Norway is aiming to become a superpower for green data centres. The nation has a surplus of renewable energy – 97% of electricity generated in the country comes from renewable sources, mainly hydropower, according to Innovation Norway. The nation’s solar sector – though still less than one percent of power generation – is growing fast, with panel installations growing by more than 300% in 2016.

The Norwegian government is looking to encourage more digital innovation to create new industries that create jobs and boost economic growth. In February 2018, the government released its data centre strategy ‘Powered by Nature,’ which stressed that attracting data centres and international investments is an important part of their industrial policy.

With such incentives and a fast-growing need for more data centres powered by renewable energy, Lefdal Mine will have an edge with its unique location and engineering. As more of the world becomes digital, ABB will be powering Lefdal and Norway ahead.


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