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Singapore Ends Data Center Pause As It Seeks Sustainable Growth

July 26, 2023 - The data center sector has never got the kudos it probably deserves for putting the lid on power consumption. Data centers use up a lot of energy, but their share of global electricity consumption in the last ten years has been stable at around 1%-1.3%.

In the decade to 2020, data centers continued to draw roughly the same amount of energy each year while internet traffic increased 17-fold and workloads grew ten to 12-fold, according to Moises Levy, CEO of data center analyst firm DC Metrix.

He said much of that improvement is attributable to the shift to the cloud – a much more efficient way to run IT services – as well as to the dominant role of the hyperscalers, which have the resources and incentives to continually improve energy efficiency.

But even that stellar performance has not been enough to keep the data center business in Singapore, one of the world's most digital-intensive countries, on its growth path. The city-state has just ended a four-year moratorium on new data center builds by awarding rights to four companies to develop new capacity.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said it had received more than 20 proposals, which it graded on energy efficiency, AI compute capabilities and expansion of international connectivity.

The winners are US giants Equinix and Microsoft, Chinese data center operator GDS, and a consortium bid from Australian firm AirTrunk and ByteDance, the Chinese parent of social media app TikTok.

The IMDA stressed it was granting the right to build fresh capacity on a provisional basis only. It says it plans to allocate more capacity over the next 12 to 18 months. But the problem is the limited scale of this exercise – just 80MW. Although this is a pilot, and further expansion is supposedly on the way, it is not a big increment in a city with more than 1000MW in installed data center capacity.

By comparison, its neighbor Malaysia is in the middle of the 72MW first phase buildout of a planned 500MW data center park. Rival cities in north Asia, Tokyo and Beijing, have 865MW and 1600MW in capacity, respectively.

In a related move, the IMDA last month issued new standards aimed at allowing a gradual increase in data center operating temperatures, important for facilities in tropical zones. It says this could lead to savings of 2%-5% in the cooling budget with every 1 degree increase in temperature.

The IMDA said it is committed to developing a roadmap "towards the development of green data centers with lower carbon emissions in support of Singapore's net-zero targets."

But even so, in this land- and energy-constrained city it will be a heavy lift to be able to keep pace with neighbors while meeting both the demands of the digital economy and sustainability targets.

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