Facebook’s Swedish data center mostly powered by clean energy

Facebook has officially announced the data center that it’s building in the chilly climate of Lulea, in Northern Sweden, and it’s going to be powered “primarily from renewables.” Woot woot! No, not solar or wind but good old hydropower (water and dams), which is still the hands-down cheapest kind of clean power available.

Facebook says it chose Lulea because of the low-cost clean power prices and also because the cold climate can enable Facebook to use the environment to cool the data center, cutting out many of the power-hungry chillers that are commonly used to power data centers. Cooling gear can sometimes account for half of a traditional data center’s power needs.

Facebook isn’t the only Internet giant looking to use outside air for cooling data centers. Google, too, built a mega green data center in freezing Finland this year, and it is using outside air and cold seawater to cool that facility. Google bought the former paper mill in Finland in 2009 and set out to use the building’s massive quarter-mile-long seawater tunnels to push water up into the building to cool the servers. Google advocates using outside air for cooling data centers whenever possible.

Facebook’s decision to factor clean energy into the equation when choosing where to build a data center is an important step. When large Internet companies show utilities that clean power is important to them, ask for clean energy from utilities, or even build their own clean power farms, then the web companies can use their influence to start to change the makeup of the grid. Greenpeace praised Facebook’s decision this morning but also called on Facebook “to take its ambitions further by using green energy throughout its global datacentres.”

Some Internet giants have even been building clean power nearby data centers, mostly as a way to lower carbon footprints and experiment with clean power. Google has been the leader for this, using its large balance sheet to invest in clean power projects and potentially one day also using that clean power for its data centers. Apple also recently was reported to be planning a solar farm near its data center in Maiden, N.C.

Internet companies are suddenly very interested in energy efficiency and clean power, because energy consumption of data centers is enormous and costly to them. The more energy-efficient their data centers can be, the less money they will spend on their yearly energy bill. According to data center energy expert Jonathan Koomey, total electricity use by data centers in 2010 was 1.3 percent of all electricity use for the world and 2 percent of all electricity use for the U.S.

Image courtesy of TeamEki