Investment and development company SilverFalcon is involved in major urban development projects and complex area developments in Europe, with a focus on the Benelux countries and the United Kingdom. At present, among others, the company is working on ‘The Ensemble’ in Amsterdam Zuidoost. The Ensemble is the most sustainable high-rise mixed-use project in Amsterdam, combining almost 85,000 square metres of rented housing, offices and social and commercial facilities.
SilverFalcon stands out by combining specific functions to deliver positive spin-off effects, thereby making its buildings more sustainable and futureproof. This is also true when it comes to datacenters, the company’s second area of interest. And that explains the use of multiple sustainable technologies in the datacenter in Westpoort. Cordeel is responsible for the building shell and the facade. Unica Datacenters will provide the design and construction of the substation, as well as the engineering and installation of all technical components. The first tower is due to be completed at the end of 2024 and commissioned shortly afterwards. The remaining two towers will then be completed in phases.
“In the past, every company organised its own data usage and storage. A highly inefficient option in terms of energy consumption and cooling. The shift to large-scale storage in datacenters is very much a positive development that is both more professional and more sustainable,” suggests Wouter Everaert, CEO of SilverFalcon. He explained that over the past few years, the sector has made huge advances in the field of cooling, power and water consumption, heat reuse and server technology. “Today’s datacenters are so reliable that any disruption is world news. Of course things can and must be made even more efficient, but the sector is growing as sustainably as possible. And although all the obvious interventions have become common practice, there are still plenty of opportunities to do things even better. With new techniques in building engineering and IT infrastructure, new operating methods, and combinations of all the above, we can set an example for the whole sector.”
Arno Uiterweerd, managing director of Unica Datacenters, nods in agreement. He offers an appealing comparison: “Volkswagen cars today are 130% more efficient than the earliest models. New datacenters are a staggering 1,200% more efficient than their older counterparts; the difference between night and day.”
‘Datacenters form the essential infrastructure for all our data traffic. The more data we use, the more datacenters we need.’
Despite all these improvements, the SilverFalcon datacenter will be placing demands on the electricity grid of Amsterdam’s Westelijk Havengebied, which is already full. As a consequence, new companies cannot be connected, and existing companies are unable to expand. Many people find it difficult to understand how space is available for a huge datacenter. “It’s true we need a major grid connection,” explains Wouter, “but when we were granted it a few years ago, it represented no problem. At that time, the problems facing us today could not be predicted as happening so fast. The war in Ukraine and the energy crisis have led to a massive acceleration in energy transition and electrification.”
Arno is fully aware of the often negative public opinion about datacenters. “But if we were to switch all the datacenters in the world off for just one hour, then everyone would probably suddenly think completely differently,” he suggests. “We all are using increasing volumes of data; both at work and at home. We all use cloud services and meet via online video connections. We are all on social media, view Netflix and watch TikTok films and growing volumes of computer power are needed for Artificial Intelligence applications like ChatGPT. Datacenters and optic fibre connections form the essential infrastructure for all that data traffic: the internet. The expression ‘If the cloud grows you need more sky’ describes the situation perfectly. The more data we use, the more datacenters we need.”
Attractive and circular
By European standards, the datacenter in Westpoort is not exceptionally large. What is remarkable is that SilverFalcon intends to employ a whole variety of innovative technologies in one place. Wouter sums up the situation, “For the very first time, on a large scale, we will be combining air and liquid cooling, as well as reducing power consumption for all secondary processes and the use of water. We will no longer be using drinking water for cooling. And on top of all that, we wish to make large-scale reuse of the heat from this datacenter, as well as working closely alongside stakeholders in the area, so that among other future developments, we will be able to use hydrogen in the datacenter. The emergency power generators will operate on fossil-free and renewable diesel, resulting in lower CO2 emissions. And last but not least, at this datacenter, we have decided to build at an easily accessible industrial location with a limited land footprint. We will take up as little open space as possible and avoid occupying valuable agricultural or urban land. The datacenter in Westpoort will become an attractive and circular building that at some point in the future could even be given a new function.”
For Unica Datacenters, the design, construction, maintenance and management of datacenters is core business. For Wouter that makes an attractive cooperation partner. “We have come to know Unica as a solid, experienced partner. As always, the people who make up the project teams are crucial for the success of the project. In the case of Unica, our experience is that it is a place where excellent people work, who with positive drive are keen to join us in creating something wonderful. Our cooperation is transparent: we can look behind the scenes at each other’s operations, and work together to come up with innovative solutions. For example integrating a datacenter as a fully functioning component of the energy system. I am very much looking forward to the coming months and years.”
Arno reaches a similar conclusion, “The developments are taking place so quickly that the next step cannot even be predicted. That is the most exciting thing about our sector: if you think you know where you are going, you are probably wrong.”