Project Development: 3 keys to sustainable site selection
By Lindsey Bruner, Vice President, Project Development
Finding the right place to build a data center is not as simple as just picking out a large swath of land connected to a fiber network and a power grid.
Certain needs are implicit in the process. Basic data center siting requirements beg certain questions, such as how’s the connectivity? Is it environmentally clean? How much power is available, and how long will it take to deliver it? Does the location match where the target customers want to be? Is it in a floodplain? ? Is it far from things that might explode?
It can be like a bit putting together a puzzle but not having the box for reference. And on top of all that, our sites must also now fit our own rigorous sustainability standards as we work toward meeting our goal of operating carbon-free by 2040. But what makes a data center project “sustainable”?
While finding the right-sized spot in the right location is needed for a successful data center, here are three considerations we use to make sustainability a major part of our project development process:
1) Power – Data centers are significant power users. And once we have a target site or sites, our first questions are to the utility. We look at power two ways: power capacity, which is the utility’s ability to serve the site’s total power requirement, and energy supply, or the actual electricity facility will use daily once it’s operational.
A site that otherwise meets all criteria loses its appeal if the power capacity isn’t sufficient for the type of facility we want to put on the site, particularly if the time to get power doesn’t align with when we would need to have that power secured. Plus, there are often challenges working with utilities and municipalities to balance a data center’s power needs with the area’s other power needs. It’s also important to understand not just what capacity is deliverable today, but also the utility’s own process and timing for adding infrastructure – like substations – and securing generation resources to power those substations.
That question feeds into our second, and key to our 2040 plan, question: what type(s) of electricity does this utility buy and supply? Once a data center is up and running, it begins drawing electrons for power. After all, we need electricity to enable hyperscalers to deliver their services or empower enterprises to efficiently stitch together their critical IT resources. But the type of electrons is an important consideration. CyrusOne’s carbon-free by 2040 goal means a commitment to run our facilities on green electrons wherever possible. Differences in utility markets mean applying different strategies to get those green electrons to us.
Generally speaking, a deregulated market can offer more flexibility in energy sourcing by the end-user customer, while a regulated market keeps this choice in the hands of the servicing utility. Increasingly, utilities offer some kind of green or renewable energy option.
In regulated markets, green tariffs are one route to take. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines them as optional programs offered by utilities and approved by state public utility commissions that allow larger commercial and industrial customers to buy bundled renewable electricity from a specific project through a special utility tariff rate. As an example, our London I and London II data centers now run on a 100% renewable energy tariff, which transfers energy annual usage equivalent to 52,000 households to zero-emissions sources.
In a deregulated market, we have even more ways to get and stay green. In addition to choosing a green plan from a utility, we can also enter into our own direct agreement to purchase the energy from a wind, solar or other renewable facility, which supports additionality, or bringing new projects to market.
For example, CyrusOne recently bought 67 MW of renewable energy delivered to the electricity grid and equivalent renewable energy credits generated by Enel Green Power’s 284 MW Azure Sky solar and storage project in Haskell County, Texas. That purchase is equivalent to meeting 100% of the power requirements for our data facility in Allen, Texas, and nearly 70% of the power requirements for our data center in Carrollton, Texas. Additionally, we will retire project-specific renewable attributes from Azure Sky solar and storage equal to 100% of the power usage at our Dallas headquarters.
2) Water – One reason data centers use so much power is all of the computing equipment inside generates a lot of heat (imagine your laptop sitting on your lap), and that heat must be removed or mitigated – i.e., cooled.
CyrusOne uses an air-cooled chiller with an integrated compressor and condenser to cool a closed loop of water. This chilled water is used to remove the heat from the data hall, but none is evaporated in the process. The water loop is filled once during construction and remains filled throughout the life of the facility. This closed-loop technology avoids new water usage in operations and the release of concentrated pollutants into the wastewater system.
Because it’s an integral part of our data center design, water and sewerage services don’t play as large a part in our site selection process. While others have to make water accommodations, it’s a burden we don’t have to put on our municipal partners because of our innovative and sustainable design. It also gives us the ability to support initiatives, such as supplying municipal hot water heating grids, which we are now exploring at our Amsterdam campus.
3) Incentives and Design Requirements – Increasingly, we see either development approvals or tax incentives tied to achieving certain sustainability requirements. In a development approval scenario, our building permit or other authorization might be tied to incorporating sustainable design components, such as rooftop solar, electric vehicle charging stations, or creating or restoring habitat through our landscaping design. Or, they may require our design meet standards, such as LEED or BREEAM.
In our project development process, CyrusOne considers site-development characteristics that may help the building qualify for LEED designation. We will initially review the criteria for certain LEED levels and calculate how many points a site can get. While that might not be determinative, it will be a contributing factor in choosing a site, so we can help our design and construction team deliver a LEED-certified project.
Even where it’s not a requirement, a LEED-qualified data center might add value for us or our customers beyond just the benefits of being an efficient and sustainable design. Many states have offer property or sales tax incentives to either data center operators or those within a respective state who buy IT equipment to put into data centers. These incentives can be structured in a variety of ways. Some are tied to job creation, while others tie property tax reductions to certain amounts of investment within a certain time period. Sales tax exemptions are usually most valuable to those buying the IT equipment.
But tax incentives are increasingly also tied to certain sustainability requirements, such as building to certain LEED (or BREEAM) levels. If we can get incentives for being green, we choose those on top of any other incentives that may be in place to develop in those areas.
Finding a new data center site is clearly much more than choosing flat land with a stable internet connection. It has to take a holistic view of the entire development. It’s got to have all the implicit things necessary for customers to want to be there. And for us, it must be a site that can operate sustainably.