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Inside Belgium: Google’s European hyperscale data centres and infrastructure ecosystem

Google has invested heavily and widely in data centers and related infrastructures in Europe. Currently, it operates hyperscale data centers across Europe: Fredericia in Denmark, St. Ghislain-Mons in Belgium, Hamina-Kotka in Finland, Dublin in Ireland, and Eemshaven-Groningen and Agriport in the Netherlands.

Belgium: A vital connection in Europe
Belgium is well placed on the path of digital transformation - capitalizing on their current and future infrastructure assets. Already, Belgium has the third highest level of digital connectivity in the EU, enabling everyday Belgians to remain connected to services, such as cloud computing, no matter their location. The Digital Belgium initiative encourages further transformation, highlighting the Belgian government's serious and proactive stance to continue developing Belgium into a leading digital economy. It also represents a direct acknowledgment of the benefits of digital transformation.

Growth and jobs. Belgium is a gateway to Europe for global network infrastructure, as shown by the case study of Google. The company is now facilitating even greater EU-wide connectivity via Belgium. It has done so as part of a wider infrastructure program which

Network infrastructure. This digital infrastructure effort includes an important, often underappreciated, part of Google’s European economic contribution, namely the investment in network connectivity such as fibre links spanning the European continent and linking Europe to the global internet.

In addition to the digital transformation supported by Google’s investments, Google’s St. Ghislain hyperscale data centre is on the forefront of the green transition in digital energy. The St. Ghislain data centre was the first in the world to run entirely without energy intensive refrigeration. Now, the St. Ghislain data centre is accompanied by an on-site solar farm, as well as using advanced evaporative cooling systems from the nearby canal grey water to keep energy efficiency as high as possible.

Energy efficiency. Every time we as users choose to rely on services provided online, we channel indirect demand for energy. As traditional non-digital activities continue to shift to new digital applications, the way energy is being consumed is changing. The data centre industry has significantly raised its energy efficiency. In fact, recent global research established that while demand for data driven services has increased exponentially (by 550 percent) over the past 10 years, data centre energy usage has remained relatively stable (increasing by only 6 percent). At the same time, there is potential to improve efficiency even further. Many services can be handled through the cloud; we find that the business transition to cloud can deliver energy efficiency benefits. As an illustrative example, we estimate that, if across Europe some further business activities and related servers were to transition to cloud and be hosted by data centres as efficient as Google’s, this would save the equivalent of the annual household consumption of electricity in Ireland.

Renewable energy. Driving the green revolution forward, Google is also the largest annual corporate buyer of renewable energy sources. It does so by committing to and signing Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), key enablers for the renewable energy project developer/investor. As of September 2020, Google had signed 24 PPAs for energy production from European wind and solar farms to match the energy consumption of its data centres. In addition, in September 2020 Google set a goal to operate on carbon-free energy, everywhere, at all hours of the day, by 2030.

The study is commissioned by Google.

For further information and media enquiries regarding the findings of this report, please contact Dr Bruno Basalisco, available at bb@copenhageneconomics.com

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