Mauritius Pitches Sea-Cooled Data Centers

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An overview of sea water air conditioning (SWAC) from Makai Ocean Engineering.

An overview of sea water air conditioning (SWAC) from Makai Ocean Engineering.

Can the island nation of Mauritius become an international data center hub? Economic development officials in the island chain in the western Indian Ocean believe that Mauritius can become a key hub connecting Africa, Asia and the Middle East. A key part of that pitch is the ocean itself, and its potential to help data center operators slash their cooling costs.

The Mauritius Eco-Park plans to develop a system to use sea water air conditioning (SWAC) to support data center tenants. The concept taps deep water currents that bring colder water within two miles of Mauritius.

The Eco-Park plans to build a system of pipes that will extend two miles offshore and as much as 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) beneath the ocean surface, where the water is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees C). The cold water will be piped back to the data center complex and used in the facility’s cooling system, eliminating the need for power-hungry chillers.

Approach Used in Other Industries
SWAC “hasn’t been used in the data center world thus far,” said Steve Wallage of the Broad Group, a UK consultancy focused on the data center sector. “It has some history with other kinds of facilities in places like Hawaii and Sweden.” A number of projects use cold water from large fresh water lakes for cooling, including Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., whose Lake Source Cooling project uses water from Lake Cayuga. UPDATE: The city of Toronto also has a deep lake water cooling system.   

“Often there’s resistance to alternative power and cooling systems, but the technology is fairly mature,” said Wallage. “You tend to have a high up-front cost in the pipe work, but the long-term savings is in the 75 to 90 percent range on the cooling build.” That’s consisent with results at Cornell, which says it uses 86 percent less power than when it used chillers.  

Vendors Focused on Mauritius’ Ambitions
The Mauritius EcoPark is working with Makai Ocean Engineering on the sea water air conditoning project. But it’s not the only company that has taken an interest in Mauritius effort to attract data centers. Executives from APC by Schneider, Fortress International and CB Richard Ellis will speak at the Data Centre Strategies Mauritius conference on Sept. 30, which is organized by Broad Group.

“Mauritius is ideally positioned at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Australia and outside major earthquake ridges,” commented Philip Low, managing director at BroadGroup. “The island is also well known as a major financial and infocom hub. Being relatively remote but well-connected to the world is a major attribute for the island-nation to position itself as a disaster recovery and business continuity destination.”

Cable May Help Connectivity
Wallage said connectivity in Mauritius, which has been an issue in the past, has been significantly improved by the construction of new undersea cables. Power prices run in the neiughborhood of 10 cents per kilowatt hour – one reason why the power reduction from the sea water air conditioning plan looms large in the island’s development plans.

Mauritius isn’t the first island nation to try and build a reputation as a data center hub. Iceland has been marketing itself as a data center destination, touting its abundant supply of geothermal energy. Those prospects have been complicated by the country’s banking crisis last fall.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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14 Comments

  1. I would be very leery of a site subject to tsunamis and hurricanes, barely above sea level. Are they kidding?

  2. Wouldn't this make a lot more sense where the water is cooler, and the climate is not tropical? Like... I dunno, lake Michigan? Not to mention being a lot closer to population centers and data users...

  3. Isabelle

    Fact : For this ""ecologic" air condition system, SWAC is taking sea water around 400-600 meters deep to get 4°water and reject this water in the ocean at 20-24 degres around the 50 meters ... at the opposite of Toronto air cooling which does not reject the water. This is not the same. What will happen if you take cold water and put back warm water? For me this is logicaly increasing the overall temp of our ocean no ? Problem is not to use it only in one place ...look where are they going to implement it and i believe you will be as worried as me concerning the effect it will make to OUR ecosystem. Did they think about methane hydrates which are so reactiv on small temperature increase? Are we again thinking short term and forgetting we do have children and as far as I know this is the only planet we'll give them for tomorrow ?????? They are decided to empty the oceans from the deep sea cold water to use for everything, from drinking to cosmetic, do we have something to say? where are the ecological impact research ? Anybody can give me a clue of what is happening here? Isabelle

  4. Mtondo

    Isabelle's concern regarding SWAC having an effect ocean ecosystems is noted, however, SWAC is nothing new. It is extensively used at a much larger scale with power stations and industrial plants. Using sea water for cooling data centres must be compared to conventional systems where refrigeration systems are in use - these are less efficient, and the same amount of heat is ultimately rejected into the atmosphere, but the much larger penalty is the amount of power used and the effect that has on global warming and the depletion of fossil fuels. If designed and managed properly, SWAC will have no effect on ocean eco systems, as, unlike with industrial / power generation plants, the water is returned to the ocean at ± 12 - 15°C, the same temperature as the surrounding surface zone water temperature. The challenge for data centre engineers is to design data centres as efficiently as possible, making use as far as possible of free cooling systems in order to minimise power demand. To this end, in a tropical climate such as Mauritius, where direct free cooling by ambient air is not practical, aisle containment, warmer cold aisles and free cooling by sea water is an excellent solution and is an example for engineers from developed countries.