10GW Clean Energy Zones, the solution to the data centre industry’s problems?
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10GW Clean Energy Zones, the solution to the data centre industry’s problems?

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A report released by the Infrastructure Masons has laid out a data centre eutopia.

Infrastructure Mason’s (iMason’s) vision for how the data centre industry can evolve to double or even triple in size in the next decade sounds almost fanciful. Upon closer inspection, though, it might be the only way that AI adoption and digital transformation can be supported sustainably.

The general concept outlined by a new report released this month is the establishment of “Clean Energy Zones”.

A concept conceived through collaboration between the government, data centre operators and hyperscalers, Clean Energy Zones involve moving compute capability to where sustainable and clean energy is already available and building a community of like-minded sustainable industries around it. This is done to benefit from economies of scale and partnerships that would otherwise be difficult to unlock.

Think Saudi Arabia’s Neom project but spread out across the world. While the largest of these Clean Energy Zones in developed markets could bring 10GW of energy for data centre use, emerging markets can use the same blueprint for smaller developments more in line with current demand.

Clean Energy Zones aren’t just about power though. iMason’s report outlines four challenges that the data centre industry needs to address to meet supply with demand generated by digital transformation and the rise of AI.

Thankfully for the marketers out there, they all begin with a P: Power, People, Perception and Planning.

If iMason’s vision is to come true, Clean Energy Zones will address all four of these P’s.


“A consequence of the unmitigated growth in the data centre industry has been growth at all costs,” says Dean Nelson, president and founder of iMasons.

This has led to data centres getting something of a bad name from the general public. Portrayed in the media as power-hungry, carbon-emitting machines, data centres are experiencing something of a PR crisis.

Digital infrastructure companies, including data centres, have preferred to act somewhat in the shadows, allowing them to acquire land, power and other resources needed to build and operate data centres without driving up costs and community resistance.

This secrecy also allows data centres to protect the privacy of the data stored, processed and flowing in and out of their facilities through fibre-optic cables.

However, this secrecy increases mistrust in local communities where data centres are deployed. They are seen as polluting, using an unfair share of power and water and eye-sores that drive up the cost of land without providing a large number of jobs.

Secrecy and opaqueness from the industry are deepening mistrust and exasperation of these issues, Nelson says. Currently, there is no opportunity to shed light on the benefits that data centres can bring in the form of tax revenue and the enablement of indirect employment as the digital economy is opened up.


According to Nelson, the way to overcome these perception issues is through master-planning communities. Quantum Loophole, a Texas-based data centre development company is perhaps a good early blueprint of how this would work.

Rather than build data centres themselves, Quantum Loophole develops land to provide four building blocks for data centres, power, water, fibre and land.

The company also plans to donate approximately a quarter of the 2,000 acres of land at its first development, Frederick Campus in Maryland, to green spaces.

But Nelson thinks this concept should go even further. Rather than just focus on developing land for data centres, the conceptual Clean Energy Zones will bring together data centre developers with other industries.

One example Nelson points to is carbon capture. “There’s a company called Blue Planet Systems that has the ability to capture carbon and sequester it in concrete.”

“If they were to be located in a clean energy zone, they would be able to take carbon emitted from data centres, capture it and then use the concrete to build new facilities or buildings in the community, so it doesn’t have to be shipped or driven elsewhere, undermining its impact” he explains.

One of the major concerns of communities adjacent to data centre deployment is the impact on the local environment.

Using satellite imagery tools, master-planned Clean Energy Zones can be developed in harmony with local wildlife, to minimise the impact on the natural ecosystem.

“Ecosystem intelligence is a satellite imagery company that has already had success with this,” Nelson says.

“It was able to look back at a data centre site in the Netherlands, where changes to the soil and water had impacted the growth of the local tulips. Through their tools, they could recommend what steps the data centre operator could take to restore the natural balance, through planting specific trees and cleaning water.”

If data centres can be agents for change and benefit the natural environment, then this would flip the script.

“Instead of people not wanting them to be built, if we could implement some of these benefits in the surroundings, people might start to welcome data centres and ask for more.”


These industrial hubs will require a labour force, so rather than add data centre capacity to existing communities, new housing developments can be built around Clean Energy Zones.

This gives data centre operators a chance to truly embed themselves into the community, while also supplying them with the skilled labour required to operate the facilities. This, according to Nelson, is essential. Its report predicts there will be 300,000 unfilled jobs throughout the digital infrastructure industry in just 2025.

Attracting talent to the industry is made harder by its secretive nature. Opening up and working closer with the local community through Clean Energy Zones would raise awareness and attract direct employees and contractors from electrical or network engineers to construction crews and salespeople, iMason’s believe.

Worse still, only 30% of the digital infrastructure workforce is under 45 and 40% are expected to retire in the next 15 years.

Working in partnership with schools, colleges and universities to create paths into the industry is already starting to happen, but with the establishment of Clean Energy Zones, data centres reputations and perceptions will improve compounding these efforts.


Key to all of this of course is making sure there is enough power. A squeeze on grid capacity and available land has already forced data centre developers to look beyond core markets to locations where green power and space are readily available.

This might be building in Vietnam or Thailand rather than Singapore, as Evolution Data Centres are doing, or Manchester rather than London, Berlin rather than Frankfurt and Marseille rather than Paris in Europe.

Creating Clean Energy Zones will require collaboration with utilities and power generation companies, and could combine sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and green hydrogen. While these energy sources are not readily available for the consistent uptime that data centres require, nuclear power is seen as a carbon-free energy source to bridge the gap.

“Utility companies are not aligned with their customers as much as they could be,” Nelson says.

Rather than building data centres in traditional connectivity hubs and then working out how to transmit clean energy to them, Clean Energy Zones would be established in partnership with energy companies where it makes sense for them.

The 5th P: Partnerships

For the data centre industry to achieve this utopian vision, it cannot work alone. Several partnerships are required, from utility and energy generation companies to governments that can help with town planning.

Given the far more complex nature of Clean Energy Zones compared to Frederick Campus, Nelson doesn’t believe that a company like Quantum Loophole could build one. Instead, he says public-private partnerships need to be formed.

When it comes to securing enough power, for example, the colocation of data centres and adjacent industries would compound the impact of institutional investment and achieve economies of scale.

Combining different industries in a clean energy zone could also unlock funding from non-digital infrastructure-focused funds to help cover the costs of the major investments required.

“Data Volt is a data centre operator that has executives with a background in different utilities, large infrastructure projects and clean energy generations,” Nelson says. “Companies like this that already have experience in other industries are crucial to helping bridge the gap between data centre operators and our proposed partners in Clean Energy Zones.”

But what about the impact on networks?

Certain applications hosted in data centres need to be physically close to the people using them, to ensure that latency is low enough.

Nelson doesn’t think this is a barrier to Clean Energy Zones. While less latency-sensitive applications can be stored here en masse, edge facilities developed with the same level of care and attention to the local community and sustainability could serve urban areas that are not adjacent to the clean energy zone.

“Edge computing has just unlocked its killer application in inference AI,” Nelson believes. Training AI models requires the most compute power but is less latency sensitive, perfect for a clean energy zone.

With new technology such as Nvidia’s Infiniband, inference workloads can be located away from training modules. The same concept applies to other non-AI latency-sensitive applications.

To read the full report, follow the link here.

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