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4 Feb 2022
Dublin bans the construction of new data centers, Frankfurt may be next
The data center industry needs to explain better why and how data centers assist local economies and communities now that protests against new and existing data centers are taking place in increasing numbers of cities. There have been protests in Mesa (Arizona, USA), Galway and Dublin (Ireland), Frankfurt and Berlin (Germany), as well as Zeewolde and Wieringermeer (Netherlands). The Dutch cities of Amsterdam and Haarlemmermeer were the first to temporarily ban the construction of new data centers in 2019. Then Singapore followed suit. Dublin (Ireland) has now declared: no more new construction for some time. Frankfurt (Germany) could be next.
Despite efforts by trade organizations around the world to explain to governments and citizens why new data centers benefit both their economies and societies, it appears many of these initiatives have been unsuccessful. People in Arizona fear a large Apple data center will deplete the already scarce water supply. According to local activists in Zeewolde (Netherlands), Facebook's plans to build a huge data center in an area that was formerly agricultural will consume enormous amounts of electricity. Plans for a Google data center near Berlin are "gescheitert" or failed - as the Germans say - because the facility may endanger the water supplies for some 170.000 households.
Many citizens fear that plans for new facilities like these will threaten the area where they live. No matter if it's water, power or huge buildings built on lands that were once flat, green and dotted with cows, protesters are winning the battle to prevent the construction of new data centers. A forest from your window is obviously more appealing than a big anonymous building that houses a data center, but what is at issue is the data center industry's inability to explain why new data centers are necessary. Even though new data center facilities provide jobs and often benefit the local economy, protesters focus primarily on the downside of having data centers in their backyards. They are often unaware that in addition to offering cloud and data services that most of us use every day, these facilities also aid local companies in transforming their business processes so that they can compete in the new digital economies and expand overseas.
Data center organizations in Europe are attempting to explain the rationale for building new data centers. These organizations have become aware of the concerns of local governments and citizens. However, they have failed to convince civil servants and citizens of the need for these new facilities. Initiatives like the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact in Europe are seen by insiders as important steps to reduce the environmental impact of data centers, but the general public is rarely aware of them. In addition, many citizens do not fully understand that demand for digital services is in large part driven by them as well.
European Central Bank
As a result of this trend, Dublin, Ireland has now banned the construction of new data centers. Frankfurt, ironically also home to the European Central Bank and many large banks and insurance companies, may be the next city to announce a ban on new data centers.
The digital industry should take this as yet another wake-up call. New data centers should be integrated into local economies and communities. There is concern among local citizens and government officials that the new data center will mainly benefit foreign shareholders rather than the city or province where it is to be built. There is a lack of transparency in the process.
Photo credit: Lisa Fecker
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