High energy hungry technology companies and data centers are setting up shop in the Canadian province of Quebec, which relies primarily on cheap, renewable electricity from hydropower dams.
Demand for cloud services has boosted the number of data centers worldwide; Two years ago there were only 39 while in Quebec alone there are now 50 operating.
Many of these centers are owned by multinational companies such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google and IBM.
Quebec’s capacity is small compared to competitors such as the data center Alley in Ashburn, Virginia, which accounts for 70 percent of global Internet traffic; There are 120 data centers in the Isle-de-France area around Paris.
However, the Canadian province hopes to attract more companies.
“In recent years we have seen the arrival of new players and the most important players,” said Stephen Pocket, managing director of Montreal International, the organization responsible for the economic development of Canada’s third largest city.
Google will increase its presence in Quebec by buying about 60 hectares and building its first local data center for C $ 735 million (USD 600 million). Microsoft bought land in Quebec City for expansion.
Meanwhile, French cloud computing pioneer OVHcloud established one of its 32 data centers in Quebec in 2012.
Inside the former aluminum factory on the outskirts of Montreal, tens of thousands of servers are stacked in rows and connected by a problem of cables. An inaudible sound with intermittent flashing red and green lights creates an emotional deluge.
“Quebec was a natural gateway to establishing ourselves on the American continent, while providing an indescribable source of renewable energy. Perhaps this is not the only reason, but it played a key role in our decision,” he acknowledged AFP Estelle Azmart, OVHcloud vice president for the United States.
Its 10,000-square-meter facility is located in Puerto Rico, a few dozen kilometers from the city of Montreal, near a hydroelectric dam.
The company has developed a technology to cool its servers in water, which allows it to distribute more expensive air conditioning.
“The environment is really at the heart of our business model,” Azmart said.
– Cheap electricity –
As an important financial argument for relocation, Quebec has about $ C005 (US $ 0.04) less electricity per kilowatt hour, which is significantly cheaper than in Europe or the United States.
“Our rates are the most favorable in the world,” said Sentrix Bouchard, a spokeswoman for Hydro-Quebec, the state’s public utility that handles power generation, transmission and distribution.
“Companies came here because it was cheap, but above all energy (99%) is renewable,” Pocket explained to AFP.
The long, cold winter in this French-speaking province also reduces the amount of power required in data centers to cool computers, he said.
Power-hungry data centers need constant cooling to prevent the servers from overheating.
The sector, which is facing an explosion in data transport, emits nearly four percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, more than civil aviation, according to a 2019 report by the French think tank The Shift Project.
In Quebec, the monthly electricity consumption of data centers is approximately 663 gigawatt-hours (GWh), or equivalent to the consumption of 40,000 homes.
“It is better to place data centers where there is hydropower, solar or nuclear power than electricity generated by coal power plants,” says Hughes Ferepoff of The Shift Project.
“But that’s not enough,” he warned. “At the same time, they need to control their consumption growth, otherwise they will capture more electricity generated by renewable energy.”
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