European data centres

Citizens in all corners of Europe and companies of all sizes are embracing digital transformation more and more. The opportunities arising from digitisation are outstanding and bring new services, products and industrial processes – all of which depend on an efficient handling of data. Thus our economies (and our individual lives) are becoming more and more data hungry. Unsurprisingly, demand for data has increased worldwide and the trend shows no sign of weakening.

The digital shift in the economy is enabled by high-tech infrastructure, with large scale-data centres forming the backbone of the digital infrastructure. A simple question is then: as data flows on telecoms networks to and from our devices, where does all this data go to?

The answer is: data centres. In fact, a large number of data centres are needed to store and process the data underpinning digital services. Together with the fibre-based cable links delivering connectivity across the globe, data centres are a key internet infrastructure. While our new devices take the limelight to deliver services, data centres are per-forming a lot of the heavy lifting behind the scenes, making digital services work seamlessly. Thus, online services work thanks to the support of data centres to efficiently process and safely store the data needed to deliver the services that users want. As a result, data centres are operated and used by many organisations and the data centre sector is as fast moving as the wide digital value chain.

Google has invested heavily in data centres and fibre infrastructure in Europe. Google currently operates hyper-scale data centres in four European regions: St. Ghislain-Mons in Belgium, Hamina-Kotka in Finland, Dublin in Ireland and Eemshaven-Groningen in The Netherlands.

In order to measure the economic impact of these investments, we have applied an economic input/output model, calibrated on the basis of Eurostat sectoral accounts. Investments considered include:

We have measured the extent to which these investments turn into benefit for European societies and economies, finding as main results that:

Finally, we have analysed how the data centre infrastructure helps digital users consume energy in a more efficient and environmentally friendly way. Every time we replace an old (e.g. paper-based or transport-based) service or process with a new digital application, we as users choose to consume energy (indirect demand, in economist jargon). While storing and processing data to deliver our preferred services requires energy, the solutions that Google has introduced bring opportunities to increase the energy efficiency by which data is handled. In fact, large data centres are more energy efficient than individual servers and, by pooling the server needs of many customers, a lot of energy can be saved.

Furthermore, Google is committed to purchase enough renewable energy to cover the electricity consumed at its data centres and operations. In Europe, Google achieves this by signing corporate Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) – agreements to buy power from renewable energy power plants at an agreed price and on a long-term basis. A PPA, a long term buying commitment, facilitates the developer’s ability to finance these plants and promotes investment in renewables and the transition towards green energy. These agreements help de-carbonising Europe’s energy supply.

The study is commissioned by Google

Download case study on Belgium

Download case study on Ireland

Download case study on the Netherlands

Download Methodology Appendix