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World's first tidal-powered data centre could be set up in Caithness

By Scott Maclennan

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THE first tidal-powered data centre in the world could be set up in Caithness in the next five years and give a major economic boost to the county.

The development, proposed by Simec Atlantis Energy Ltd – the company behind the MeyGen project in the Pentland Firth – is estimated to cost about £200 million and is expected to be operational by 2024.

The data centre – a base for computer, telecommunications and storage systems – would be connected to international subsea fibre optic cables, offering a fast and reliable connection to London, Europe and the USA. Forty of the largest turbines the company has ever built would be needed for the venture with 120 staff needed to maintain them. The power for the centre would be supplied from the MeyGen tidal turbines.

Energy from MeyGen could power the data centre
Energy from MeyGen could power the data centre

Atlantis chief executive Tim Cornelius is confident about the viability of the project and stresses the MeyGen development is close to the Farice submarine communications cable which connects Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Scotland. The cable lands at Dunnet Bay.

That location means it has the potential to attract what is called a "hyperscale data centre" which could service companies such as Amazon, Microsoft or Google.

AECOM, the multinational engineering firm, has said it is technically feasible to connect to high speed international fibre optic cables while preliminary talks with the Icelandic government, which owns Farice, have been "very favourable."

Mr Cornelius said: "Data is being touted as the new oil. It is arguably becoming the world’s most valuable resource, and the amount of data requiring storage is increasing at a staggering pace.

"However, data centres are undeniably power hungry, and the clients of data centre operators are rightly demanding power be sourced from renewable and sustainable sources.

"This exciting project represents the marriage of a world leading renewable energy project in MeyGen with a data centre operator that seeks to provide its clients with a large amount of computing power, powered from a sustainable and reliable source – the ocean.

"We are going to have to build 40 of the largest turbines we have ever built and do that somewhere between Nigg and Scrabster. The upgrade to our network needs about 120 people to maintain it on an ongoing basis.

“Our investment – and I emphasise these are tentative figures susceptible to change – is going to be about £160 million in the tidal side of the operation, then there would be a further £20 million in upgrading out local grid network and the data centre would cost somewhere in the region of £18 million."

Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor Karl Rosie welcomed the initiative and said: "It is fascinating to hear data being described as the new oil and we cannot underestimate the effects this may have in Caithness. The ability to diversify into other economic sectors and transition into a greener and more sustainable economy with MeyGen providing the first ocean powered data centre in the world with the potential to attract a hyperscale data centre occupier to Scotland is exciting."

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