Hepokorvenkallio data centre spurring Espoo towards carbon neutrality

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2020-06-01 16:38

Espoo aims to become carbon neutral by 2030. Espoo and Fortum have also committed to making the city’s district hearing carbon neutral during by the end of the current decade. The data centre now being planned would be a major step towards achieving both of these goals. 

The Espoo City Board’s Business and Competitiveness Subcommittee has granted a planning reservation for the building of a data centre in Hepokorvenkallio, located next to the Kehä III:n beltway and the Oittaa Recreation Area. The area’s local detailed planning has started and the project’s participation and assessment plan will be put on display at the start of the autumn season. At that point, residents of Espoo will be able to express their opinions on the plan, which will be taken into account in the preparation of the detailed plan proposal. 

Hepokorvenkallio, planning area on guidemap of Espoo.
Hepokorvenkallio, planning area.

Recovering the waste heat generated by data centres 

As digitalisation progresses, the building of data centres is also speeding up. The global IT giants that operate data centres, are increasingly investing in renewable energy with the aim of compensating for the electricity consumption of data centres with a corresponding amount of carbon-free energy. 

In the server rooms of data centres, some of the electricity consumed is converted into heat, which can be fed into the district heating network. The waste heat recovered from the planned data centre would cover the majority of the coal-based heating output of the Suomenoja power plant. This would reduce the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from district heating by 300,000 tonnes per year, covering up to 1.7% of Finland’s emissions reduction target for 2035. 

Up to 99% of the waste heat generated by the world’s data centres currently goes unutilised. “Placing a data centre in a city located in a cool climate zone makes it possible to recover and utilise waste heat. Espoo has the opportunity to show the way for the rest of the world in this respect,” says Head of Technical and Environment Services Olli Isotalo. 

The location enables climate benefits – negative impacts to be minimised  

The plan is to build the data centre in the field and forest area between Lake Bodom and the Kehä III beltway. Due to the noise and air quality impacts of the beltway, the area has been reserved for business and industrial use in proposed master plan for Espoo’s northern and central areas. The district heating network is close by, and there is a main grid power line running through the area, which will supply the electricity for the data centre. The utilisation of the existing district heating network and electricity grid will reduce the environmental impacts and costs of construction. A comprehensive environmental impact assessment is currently being prepared for the project.

The preparation of the local detailed plan will be carried out in accordance with the recommendations issued in the area’s nature survey

The regionally valuable nature area and cultural landscape will be preserved. A one-hundred-metre-wide strip of woodland in the centre of the planning area will be left intact to serve as a corridor for Siberian flying squirrels. The ecological link connecting the forest areas to the north and south of the Kehä III beltway at the western edge of the planning area will also be preserved. 

The new construction will be adapted to the cultural landscape. Sufficient numbers of trees will be left around recreational paths and residential buildings to preserve a woodland feel, and the rooftop height of the data centre will be lower than the treetops. The local detailed plan being prepared will not affect the area’s ski tracks and will, in fact, improve the local network of recreational areas via the creation of a new recreational path connecting the recreational areas to the north and south of the Kehä III beltway.

A major investment that would create jobs

The value of the data centre investment may exceed one billion euros, and its employment impacts will be significant. The precise number of jobs created will be clarified as the project progresses, but a large data centre typically employs 100–300 people. Taking into account indirect jobs and the associated construction and replacement investments, the total number of jobs created would be many times higher. 

“Major data centre investments bring well-being and promote the global visibility of the localities in which they are built, as a result of which competition for them is fierce in the Nordic countries as well. The large-scale recovery of waste heat is our unique ace in the hole, thanks to which our project has a very good shot at success in the competition. It has already raised a great deal of interest on the market,” says Antti Kaikkonen from Fortum.  

Further information:

Project page of the Hepokorvenkallio data centre’s local detailed plan (in finnish).

Olli Isotalo, head of technical and environment services, City of Espoo

tel. +358 (0)50 593 3359

Email: olli.isotalo@espoo.fi

Antti Kaikkonen, VP, Industrial Electrification, Fortum Generation

tel. +358 (0)50 453 6308 

email: antti.kaikkonen@fortum.com