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Does solar offer a new data center location opportunity?

Solar energy has so far represented only a small part of the energy required for data centers. Few electricity suppliers generate sufficient power using this resource and in some areas of the world it may not be an option at all. However some possible opportunities may exist in Europe/North Africa:

SPAIN

Spain’s southern province of Andalucia has a density of cable landing stations, and is also the site of one of the largest solar power plants globally.

Spain’s solar thermal energy plant in Sanlúcar la Mayor in southern Spain - Andalusia's interior is the hottest area of Europe - had been the world’s most powerful facility until the Ivanpah 392 MW plant in California became operational in 2014. The idea put simply is Solar radiation amassed on to the receiver, located on the top of a high tower produces steam which is converted into electricity by a turbine generator. Ivanpah reportedly is still only producing half its expected output, but the Spain facility is generating the equivalent to the entire electricity needs of the city of Seville.


Sanlúcar la Mayor Source: Wikipedia

FacilityLocationWho’s involved?Generating Power
IvanpahCalifornia Mojave Desert, 64 km southwest of Las VegasBrightsource Energy
Bechtel
Google
392 MW (planned)
173,500 Heliostats
Planta Solar 20 (PS20)Sanlúcar la Mayor near Seville in Andalusia, SpainAbengoa Solar
Ciemat, the IDEA & University of Seville
300 MW
1,255 Heliostats (each 120m2 surface area)

International cable landing stations in the southern tip of the country include:

CountryCable Landing StationCable System
SpainConilColombia III
Pencan 6
SpainChipionaPencan 7
SpainEsteponaEstepona-Tetouan
FLAG Europe-Asia
SpainCádizPencan 8
SpainRotaCanalink
GibraltarGibraltarEurope India Gateway

(Source: Telegeography)

Networks present in the region include Spain’s main carrier, Telefónica. Interoute has a POP in Gibraltar. Under regulatory agreement, Telefónica has to make its ducts available to competitors. If a duct is not available then Dark Fiber has to be provided. Several dark fiber providers operate in Spain.

The next challenge is land availability – and suitable land potentially intersecting cable connections - is a key question, as well as negotiating Spain’s labyrinthine regulations could be a challenge. As a member country of the EU, governance is not the key issue.

The challenge lies at local level, and reflects a lack of preparedness for large scale investments. For example in the province of Andalucia, every local council (Municipality) produces a ten-year plan for urban, green belt and other zones. The local plan is known as the Plan General de Ordinación Urbana PGOU. Each PGOU designates zones that are Suelo Urbanizable (suitable for building development) and further designates the sub-division of such zones into different categories of usage. The planning process is highly regulated.  Nevertheless, with energy a prime consideration in selecting sites, the area might prove one to consider.

MOROCCO

A new Solar plant has recently opened in Ouarzazate, south-central Morocco which includes three projects (Noor I,II and III) and combined with the photovoltaic phase (Noor IV), will make it the largest multi-technology solar production site in the world with a capacity of 580 MW.

FacilityLocationWho’s involved?Generating Power
Noor I
[Noor II and III under construction and Noor IV (photovoltaic)
OuarzazateMoroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) & ONEE160 MW
Noor II 200 MW
Noor III 150 MW
Noor IV 70MW

Morocco is already the location for several new data center facilities, and others are currently being assessed. International cables run into the northern tip of the country at Asileh (12 cables) and at Tétouan (Estepona- Tétouan and SeaMeWe-3).

SOLAR OPPORTUNITY?

In the US market solar energy supply for data centers is already significant:

OperatorLocationSupplierDeal
AppleNationwideFirst Solar [California Flats Project 130MW]
Operational end 2016
25-year supply USD848m
Alphabet subsidiary GoogleLenoir campus, North CarolinaDuke Energy61 MW
[A special renewable energy tariff]

Without the capacity to build very large scale plants, micro solutions have also been found such as the hybrid solar power systems provided in Flexenclosure’s eSite, targeting emerging markets.

As part of the commitment by many players to use renewable energy, Solar power may well develop into a more widely used source for data centers.

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