Manitoba: New Frontier for Huge Data Centers?
A number of large data center operators are evaluating Manitoba, Canada as a possible location for major projects. Why? Cheap, renewable energy, and tons of it. With power costs driving many data center site location processes, and corporate mandates for “green” facilities, the central Canadian province’s ample supply of affordable hydro and wind power is attractive.
“I can confirm that we have had some expressions of interest from data center companies,” said Alissa Schacter, Project Manager for Manitoba STEM (Science, Technology, Energy and Mines). Manitoba Hydro has also been approached by data center companies sizing up the regional power profile.
Large power customers in Winnipeg paid an average of 3.6 cents per kilowatt hour in 2007, cheaper than the average rate in virtually every state in the U.S. except Idaho, as seen in our chart of state-by-state energy prices. That’s all clean, green power from Manitoba Hydro, which generates power from 14 hydroelectric generating stations throughout the province. Not green enough? Manitoba Hydro also purchases the output of a 99-megawatt wind farm in St. Leon, Manitoba to augment its hydro generation capabilities.
Manitoba Hydro doesn’t have current capacity issues, as it produces more hydro power than the local economy needs, with the excess electricity being sold outside the province. In 2006-07 the company had export sales of $827 million, with the U.S. market accounting for 80 percent.
It’s not clear how serious the data center companies are in their interest in Manitoba. But there are several additional factors, beyond power, that could explain the interest in the province:
- The cool temperatures in Manitoba would support data center cooling techniques incorporating exterior air, such as free cooling and economizers.
- Manitoba has over 75,000 kilometers of fiber-optic cabling and 100 percent digital switching technology, according to Destination Winnipeg, which outlines the region’s information technology infrastructure in an economic development brochure (PDF). Leading connectivity providers include MTS Allstream, Shaw Communications, Rogers (Sprint Canada), Bell Canada (GT Group Telecom), Telesat and Manitoba Hydro. MTS Allstream has three fiber rings in Winnipeg and one in Brandon, and provides wireless coverage for 97 percent of the population.
- Manitoba-based IT and communications companies currently generate $1 billion in annual revenues, according to the Information and Communication Technologies Association of Manitoba (ICTAM). There are 210 ICT and new media firms operating in the province, employing 8,100 people.
Workforce issues might be a sticking point. The ICTAM calls workforce development “the number one concern among ICT companies in Manitoba.”