Surprise and indignation: those were more or less the reactions when the municipalities of Haarlemmermeer and Amsterdam announced a temporary construction stop for new data centers in 2019. “The business community thought it was ridiculous: those data centers are very important for the economy,” says Marja Ruigrok , alderman for the economy from Haarlemmermeer. “But we had to do something, because our space is scarce.”
The municipalities of Haarlemmermeer and Amsterdam are popular locations for data centers because of their proximity to the most important internet hub in the Netherlands: AMS-IX. But there are limits to growth, as Ruigrok’s colleague Mariëtte Sedee also noted. She is Alderman for Spatial Planning. “I realized that the appeal of Haarlemmermeer also has a downside and I started to worry about space and electricity. It’s really nice that they all want to come to us, but we couldn’t facilitate that at all. This would require perhaps three or four additional transformation stations. So we had to look for a way to enable the arrival of new data centers. To do this, we first had to put in a stop and then make policy.”
The policy was developed in close consultation with the Dutch Data Center Association and other stakeholders. Now only data centers that are innovative, sustainable and energy-efficient are welcome in the Haarlemmermeer. Ruigrok renamed the policy 4G: “We have grip now, we will ensure moderate growth until 2030 and want the data centers to be green inside and green outside.” The latter means that a data center must try to adapt to the landscape. The locations where a data center may be located are also limited to a number of predetermined areas.
LEAP as a melting pot of ideas
The policy is in line with the ambitions of our LEAP initiative, in which more than 40 companies, knowledge institutions and governments are working on an accelerated transition to a sustainable, digital infrastructure. Within LEAP, among other things, research is being done into which new technologies can accelerate this transition.
Data centers have the special attention of LEAP, because they consume a lot of energy and also take up a lot of space. There are thousands of servers running day and night that also need to be cooled day and night: the latter is often done in the air, so that the data centers are often flat buildings. In the Netherlands, data centers consume 2.8 percent of all electricity. More energy-efficient data centers can therefore significantly reduce the pressure on our energy grid.
Ruigrok: “LEAP really is a melting pot of ideas in which you see how many fantastic things are already possible. For example, I was recently with officials at a company that has developed a completely different cooling system for data centers. That system ensures 20 percent less power consumption and that a data center only needs about 10 percent of the space. I then think: what are we waiting for?”
Lay your own cables
That is exactly why Sedee and Ruigrok initiated the new policy. Sedee: “Data centers are primarily companies that want to make a profit. We also want them to think about how they can add value to their environment, how they can use the space most efficiently. With our policy we force them to do so. One of the requirements for establishment is, for example, that if you purchase more than 80 MVA (megavolt-ampere) power, you have to lay a cable to the transformer station yourself.”
“This way we can push those data centers a bit towards more innovation. As far as I can tell, that policy is unique in the world,” says Sedee. “People had read about the preparatory decision and from Paris we were visited by staff from the Paris Urban Development and Planning Department and from a research institute for the development of the urban region of Paris. They wanted to know what we were planning to do against unlimited data center growth in our region.” Ruigrok and Sedee also looked with little jealousy at the situation in Zeewolde – where the city council gave the green light for the construction of a huge data center for Facebook parent company Meta. “Thanks to the policy we have now, such a situation will not arise for us,” says Sedee.
It is still difficult to determine how the data center policy will work out: a number of permits have been issued since the policy was adopted. “In a few years we will have to evaluate how the policy has worked out,” says Sedee. “Developments are going very fast. Perhaps there will be innovative techniques with which we can considerably reduce the surface area of data centers. For example, by going up. Then we could also set requirements for the surface.”
Need of LEAP
For now, Ruigrok and Sedee hope that their policies will inspire companies and other governments alike. There is a lot of contact about this subject between the various municipalities in the MRA.
In any case, the province of North Holland was already inspired by the Haarlemmermeer and Flevoland is also drawing up a data center policy. Ruigrok: “The developments in our society make clear the need for LEAP and therefore for a sustainable digital infrastructure: there is a lack of energy, a lack of space and we have to innovate.”
“I thought it was fantastic to tackle this in this way,” says Sedee. “Taking the preparatory decision and formulating the data center policy are among the things that I am most proud of in my role as alderman.” “That also applies to me,” says Ruigrok. “What we have done is very concrete. You do not say: there is nothing more. There is certainly still room for something, but with restrictions. And with that we take care of our entrepreneurs, residents and the environment.”