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NorthC installs Europe’s first green hydrogen emergency power plant in Groningen

NorthC, the Netherlands’ largest regional data center business, is taking a significant new step toward continued environmental improvements.

The company’s data center in Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands, will be the first in Europe to use green hydrogen fuel cells (H2). This will result in significant CO2 emission savings. NorthC is researching the feasibility of implementing this hydrogen technology in the company’s other data centers.

The sustainability of data centers is a point of contention. While energy consumption is critical, demand for data center services is increasing. The growth required for this can only be realized sustainably through the exploration of alternative energy sources. The European data center industry has committed to operating totally in a carbon-neutral manner by 2030. Hydrogen cells are an exciting new technology for accomplishing this goal.

In the event of a power outage, data centers often feature numerous emergency diesel generators to ensure the continued availability of the digital services on which modern society depends. While these diesel generators are rarely required, they should be inspected on a monthly basis to ensure they are operating properly. This process consumes diesel fuel, which, given the high number of emergency power generators in all of our country’s data centers, amounts to a significant amount of diesel.

The 500 kilowatt hydrogen cell module that will be put in Groningen’s new NorthC data center will save tens of thousands of liters of diesel each year. This amount of fuel would result in the emission of more than 78,000 kilos (78 tons) of CO2. This is the equivalent of 24 cars driving the average number of kilometers driven by Dutch individuals every day (32 km), or 20,000 cellphones being charged daily for a year. When green hydrogen is burned, just water (H2O) is emitted. Additional hydrogen modules may be added on a need-to-know basis.

“The data center industry has a responsibility to ensure that we operate as sustainably as possible. For example, all our regional data centers run entirely on green power. We are also actively engaged in additional sustainability initiatives, such as projects that use the residual heat from our data centers to heat homes and businesses in the area. An important next step is to switch from emergency power generators that run on diesel to sustainable alternatives. We believe that green hydrogen offers the best possibilities in this respect and have therefore entered into a partnership with Nedstack – one of the frontrunners in the field of large hydrogen cells”, says Jarno Bloem, COO at NorthC Datacenters.

Hydrogen cells are more expensive than conventional diesel generators that will be deployed in the Groningen data center. However, costs are likely to decline fast as fuel prices continue to rise and the hydrogen business continues to develop and thrive – particularly in the Groningen region. Additionally, hydrogen cells have a very long life expectancy of at least 20 years. NorthC is studying the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of retrofitting existing diesel-fueled generators to run on hydrogen. While this is less efficient than hydrogen fuel cells, which directly convert hydrogen to electricity, it would dramatically lower emissions by more than 80% and contribute to sustainability.

‘With these hydrogen cells, our data center in Groningen has a European first for emergency power supplies. We are now going to investigate if we can also apply this technology in our other data centers, initially mainly in new branches or expansions of existing branches. The ultimate goal, of course, is to use green hydrogen as a primary power supply, but that is still something to address in the future. An important condition is a drop in the costs of hydrogen. This requires subsidies and an increase in scale. But given the enormous advantages that this form of energy offers, I am convinced that it is just a matter of time,’ Bloem concludes.

Nedim Husomanovic

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