Morgan Stanley Plans Tide-Powered Data Center

Morgan Stanley plans to spend more $400 million to build a huge data center in Scotland that will be powered by tidal energy, and may seek to lease the huge facility to Google.

Rich Miller

October 17, 2008

2 Min Read
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Morgan Stanley plans to spend more $400 million to build a huge data center in Scotland that will be powered by tidal energy, and may seek to lease the huge facility to Google upon its completion, according to UK media reports. Morgan's plans for a data center driven by tidal power closely resemble elements of Google's proposed floating data barges that use the ocean for power and cooling.

The data center is planned for Scotland's Pentland Firth, which separates the Orkney Islands from the Scottish mainland, and would require about 150 megawatts of power, the Guardian reports. The data center would use grid power at first, but later generate its own energy using tide-powered turbines developed by Atlantis Resources Corp., in which Morgan Stanley is a major shareholder.  

Google has filed a patent for a floating data centers located 3 to 7 miles from shore, which would use wave action to generate electricity. Google's patent describes "wave snakes"of floating cylinders like those developed by the UK company Pelamis. The patent also noted the potential to use tidal power systems to support a land-based data center, which is exactly what Morgan Stanley hopes to build in northern Scotland. Google would not comment specifically on the Morgan Stanley project, but is actively interested in developing renewable power sources for its data centers, including wave power and tidal power. 

Atlantis' tidal power design is described as an underwater windmill, in which 60-foot blades are encased in cylinders on the ocean floor, and uses tidal flows to spin the blades, which can move in either direction to benefit from incoming and outgoing todes. Atlantis is currently testing its technology off the coast of Australia, and says each turbine may be able to generate 5 to 6 megawatts of power. The company has designed turbines for both shallow water and deep water.

"Given that data centres need to be built somewhere, it makes sense to place them as close as possible to renewable energy sources that are currently grid-constrained," John Woodley, co-head of Morgan Stanley's European and Asian power businesses, told the Guardian. Morgan Stanley backed a tidal power company called Marine Current Turbines, which was acquired by Atlantis.

The tidal power component of the data center is in its early stages, and would need to clear regulatory hurdles, lease land on the seabed and secure approvals for a private cable to connect the turbines to to the data center. But Morgan Stanley says it is committed to investing in the project, despite the recent turmoil on Wall Street that has pummeled the company's share price.  

"The longer term risks and opportunity presented by climate change and energy security remain," Woodley said. "We will continue to seek investments that promise scale and commercial viability."

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