Data centres, the server farms that handle internet traffic, have emerged as voracious users of electrical power. They already account for 2% of global power demand, according to research by the campaigning group Greenpeace, conducted several years ago. The burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity is a prime source of carbon dioxide emissions – the main gas associated with global warming.
Facebook has positioned itself as a leader in tackling both these aspects. The social networking giant has just inaugurated a massive new data centre in Lulea in Sweden, its first such facility outside the US.
The project has given the social networking giant an opportunity to burnish its green credentials.
The data centre runs entirely on renewable energy generated by nearby hydroelectric schemes.
It is also designed to take advantage of the sub-arctic location.
A cold climate provides natural cooling for the literally tens of thousands of servers – Facebook won´t say exactly how many there are – packed together in long aisles. This saves a lot of electricity.
If you post a status update, upload a photo or do any other kind of activity on Facebook in Europe, it will probably pass through the server farm in Lulea.
The plant isn´t pretty. It is a vast warehouse-like structure, painted a drab grey, spread over 30,000 sq m – equivalent in size to four and a half football pitches.