Technology is putting a strain on the environment.  This small country may have part of the answer

Technology is putting a strain on the environment. This small country may have part of the answer


The Ljósafoss hydroelectric power station in Iceland.

Image: Landsvirkjun

I stand in an underground cavern beneath the Ljósafoss hydroelectric power station and there is an almost deafening noise as thousands of liters of water rush through the pipes to the station’s turbines and spill into the river below, creating huge amounts of electricity in the process.

And, a few hours earlier, I was looking at what looked like a lunar landscape, with tall columns of hot steam rising into the air from the Hellisheiði power station, which is one of the largest geothermal power stations in the world. .

Welcome to Iceland, home to a collection of hydroelectric and geothermal facilities that account for almost 70% and 30% of the country’s energy production, respectively (there’s also some wind power).

While the rest of Europe suffers from soaring gas prices and ponders a winter of power cuts, Iceland has taken advantage of its natural resources and uses 100% renewable energy, such as the hydroelectric plant operated by Landsvirkjun and ON Power’s geothermal plant, which powers everything from homes to cars – and data centers.

hellheidar-1 power plant

The Hellisheiði power station is the largest in Iceland.

Image: Power On

These large-scale developments are exciting and pioneering, but they’re also potentially critical for tech professionals tasked with reducing their organization’s carbon emissions and bolstering its green credentials.

Technology has the power to change all of our lives for the better, but our growing reliance on data is creating a huge strain on the environment.

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Estimates suggest that the IT industry accounts for around 3% of global carbon emissions. The main contributors of greenhouse gases in the IT sector are data centers (45%).

Our continued demand for information will create upward pressure on the environment and risk further increases in emissions. So, is there a way to help meet these demands in a more sustainable way?

In the far north of Europe, a group of Icelandic companies that supply electrical installations, data centers and undersea cabling believe their combined resources offer a greener alternative.

Tate Cantrell, CTO of Verne Global, a data center company whose facilities are powered 100% by sustainable energy sources, including hydroelectric and geothermal power in Iceland, is one of those to lead this charge.

Cantrell says a growing number of professionals at large corporations are realizing that sustainability is something that matters not just to the board of directors, but also to the end customers who use a company’s products.

Consumers do not want their environmental principles undermined by the activities of the companies that produce these goods – and technology is an integral part of this production process.


Verne Global’s data center facilities in Iceland are powered by sustainable sources.

Image: Verne Global

A study for consultancy Deloitte indicates that consumers rank reducing waste in manufacturing processes and reducing carbon footprint among the five most important ethical or environmentally sustainable practices.

Some companies are already aware of the role IT plays in the production process. Cantrell gives the example of BMW, which is one of Verne’s long-time customers.

“The reason they chose us in 2012 was that they wanted to prove to the world that not only were they building the next generation of sustainable cars, but they knew data centers were part of the raw materials that made up the cars. ,” he says.

Cantrell says the shift to sustainable computing power as part of the production process isn’t a slowing trend — he says other companies in manufacturing and finance are also taking similar steps.

That’s something Gisli Kr., business manager of data center specialist at North, also acknowledges, whose company has been delivering high-performance, large-scale computing since 2009.

“Today, environmentally sustainable computing is now available at a lower cost. Our customers are enterprise customers and it’s making headlines in mainstream enterprises.”


High performance computing facilities in Iceland.

Image: North

With affordable and sustainable electricity in short supply across mainland Europe, a growing number of professionals looking to manage their workloads efficiently and cost-effectively might consider Iceland. So what’s the problem ?

A significant obstacle is latency. Iceland is far from mainland Europe – and that distance matters when you’re transmitting data along undersea cables to make important business decisions, perhaps even in real time.

Gisli Kr. acknowledges that extremely low latency will be crucial for some professionals, such as those working in high-frequency trading.

However, he believes that up to 95% of apps can work effectively from Iceland. He encourages business leaders to “zoom out” and think about what constitutes acceptable latency for their business.

“It takes courage,” he says. “One of our financial services customers decided to place their data in a low carbon footprint zone. They had three data centers in the UK and mainland Europe with very low latency between sites. moved a third of their workload to Iceland – and once they were up and running, they found they were getting lower total costs of ownership for their workload in Iceland compared to their previous locations. ”

This finance company has undertaken a huge work to make its applications work with lower latency. Today, the company runs its analytics application from Iceland with reduced costs and carbon footprint.

As a bonus, the company’s efforts to optimize its applications means that these tools can now be deployed anywhere in the world, giving the company more flexibility and resiliency in terms of the application stack.

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Professionals should note that there will be a further increase in data speeds next year, when Farice, the telecommunications specialist and submarine cable operator, opens IRIS, its third and newest data connection between the Iceland and Europe.

Þorvarður Sveinsson, CEO of Farice, says that the plan to create this third cable has been in the making for a long time and that much of the effort to establish the 1,750 km long cable is going on behind the scenes.

“It took four years, but you don’t see much of the work. The cables are designed in the United States, you see the cable land on the coast and then the ship pulls away and lays the cable.”


Laying of Icelandic submarine cables.

Image: Farice

All of this effort should bring great rewards. Currently, about two-thirds of Farice’s cabling capacity is used by data centers. The new cable will offer increased capacity and speeds.

The current latency for data traveling between Reykjavik and London is 18ms one way. IRIS will reduce one-way latency to London to 15ms and to around 10.5ms to Ireland.

“The latency reductions mean that, even though it’s far north, Iceland is getting closer to Europe,” says Sveinsson.

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