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Facebook plans sub-Arctic data center

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Data centers are huge CO2 emitters, and Facebook runs big ones. Its latest solution: cold bytes from northern Sweden.

Data centers are huge CO2 emitters, and Facebook runs big ones. Its latest solution: cold bytes from northern Sweden.

In an effort to reduce its significant carbon footprint, Facebook is getting cooler.

The mega social media site is building a data center near the Arctic Circle in Lulea, Sweden, where the chilly temperatures will provide natural cooling and slash electricity normally required to run cooling systems.

Data centers could exceed airlines for CO2 emissions by 2020, consulting firm McKinsey has estimated. Conventional cooling can contribute up to 70 percent of a data center’s energy profile.

Facebook’s move to Lulea echoes a recent decision by U.S. data services firm Datapipe to set up shop in Iceland. In addition to cooling benefits, the N. Atlantic island offers 100 percent renewable energy that comes from hydroelectric and geothermal sources. Icelandic utilities also offer fixed electricity prices for as long as 20 years – an attraction compared to rising and volatile fossil fuel-based electricity tariffs.

Back in Sweden, the Lulea site will be Facebook’s first non-U.S. data center. It will help serve the European, African and Middle Eastern constituents of Facebook’s 800 million active users - all of whom contribute to the company's greenhouse gas profile, let's not forget. Lulea is in northeast Sweden along the Gulf of Bothnia, just south of the Arctic Circle (see map, left).

According to the BBC, the facility will require 70 percent less power than normal and will span 30,000 square meters (323,000 square feet), about 11 soccer fields. The Daily Mail says it’s scheduled for completion in 2014.

Images: Wikimedia

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure