Start Campus and the all-green operating model

Start Campus and the all-green operating model

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Capacity's Natalie Bannerman speaks to Start Campus' head of sustainability, Fabiola Bordino on the company's disruptive green data centre operating model and the state of sustainability as a whole.

Standing at an impressive 495MW, Start Campus is a sustainable hyperscale data centre campus based in Sines, Portugal.

"We call ourselves green giants," explains Fabiola Bordino, head of sustainability at Start Campus. "What we do that's different from other data centres is that we look at the entire ecosystem."

Starting with power, Bordino says that Start Campus produces its own green power that feeds the data centre. This environmental approach also extends to the infrastructure and the connectivity as well.

Atlantic Hub

From a geographic perspective she says that Portugal is "the door to Europe" which is positioning itself to be at the Atlantic hub for subsea cables and closing up the loop from North America, South America and Africa.

"Having a data centre to process all that information that comes out of these markets is ideal, so that's where we've positioned ourselves," she adds.

Though subsea is not her primary area of focus, Bordino shares that the company is working with the subsea cable operators to build out this Atlantic hub, "looking at different ways of landing the subsea cable, instead of being big blocks of concrete".

Re-purposing infrastructure also forms part of this work. Although its usually easier to build from scratch, she points out that we should actually look at reusing and reshaping what we already have.

"I would say the landing stations, if you if you position it well enough, they could be in data centres rather than having it as a landing station," says Bordino.



Being so embedded in to the end-to-end operations of the data centre bring its own set of challenges and opportunities for Start Campus. On one hand it allows Start Campus to really tap into the solar and wind power in Portugal enabling it to feed the campus 24/7 green energy.

"In Portugal and Spain, wind and solar power really complement each other, when there's no sun there's wind and vice versa," comments Bordino.

On the connectivity side however, she says, "you can only go as green as the supply chain permits you".

This in part has fueled Bordino, and by extension Start Campus, to keep pushing the industry to think green because between the data centre sector and the connectivity space, "I think the connectivity sector is the slowest pace in terms of picking up the sustainability and building greener thinking," she says.

The reason for this discrepancy isn't due to any technological reason, as rate of innovation continues at pace, but could be due to the difference in culture.

"Telecoms is an older industry," she says. "I've had conversations before where I've told they do not believe in greener or carbon emissions. It was upsetting and half of them were telcos. It's the mindset that needs to change."

2022 saw Start Campus became a signatory of the iMasons Climate Accord (ICA), an industry-wide pledge to combat climate change by reducing data centre carbon output, with the aim of becoming carbon-free operations by 2025 and fully carbon-free by 2028.

Speaking to Bordino on the importance of joining the pact, it was clear that there is a lot going on with sustainability but a lot of it is siloed, with no one way of reporting or one set of guidelines.

"What iMasons wants to do with the Climate Accord is actually get a standard. It's not something that is fixed, but it aims to create a baseline where everyone from across the industry, i.e. the entire supply chain, can use it as a guide."

At the same time, she says that the ICA is also pushing for scope 3 inclusion which is not something many businesses or organisations do due to the complexity involved.

By measuring their carbon emissions since the first shovel on the ground means that Start Campus where able to change materials at design stage to greener options, "sustainability is way more than just reporting. It's being smart about it and changing the design," she explains.

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Talent and culture

As for talent, getting younger people onboard with these newer sustainability ideas isn't the hard part, rather its engaging with them to enter the data centre space to begin with that poses the bigger problem.

"Even though there are no sustainability or data centre degrees or forms of higher education, there are classes and programs that can be added on to support them," says Bordino.

"I'm going to be a speaker for a class at a local University on sustainability. Its all about pushing sustainability into a practical exercise. The same can be said for data centres and there are so many labs and programmes pushing this."

Start Campus has six buildings. Buildings number two and three are specifically built for AI with its own liquid cooling solutions, "AI consumes a lot more power and you need to refrigerate better, having buildings that are future proofed for these requirements is a must."

Could this winning model that Start Campus has developed work in an edge environment? Though its not their core business and they have no plans of venturing into the space, Bordino is unsure if it could work.

"Edge data centres are typically within cities. There you are competing for land, for commercial activities, you're competing for people and you're competing with water," she says.

"In Sines, we are located next to the ocean which is used in our cooling system and then there's the power. I'm not sure it could work."

With work on the first building on the campus due to complete and open at the end of 2023, Bordino says that work has already started on the second with development also ongoing on the Atlantic Hub.

The business also has its eyes set of expansion, with Bodino sharing: "we're looking at other locations in Europe to do the same model, which is an ecosystem where the power and connectivity is all green and done by us. But again, it all goes back to the talent, its all about the finding the right people."

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