Verne Global

Iceland | Sustainability |

9 August 2017

A Sustainable Solution for the Arctic’s Economic Future

Written by Adam Nethersole

Adam is Senior Director of Marketing at Verne Global and has worked within the area of sustainability for the last 15 years.

The Arctic is a vast, frigid region that encompasses the Arctic Ocean and the adjacent waters and coastal areas of eight countries. It is seen by some as the last great unprotected wilderness, a safe haven for endangered species and the home to native people whose subsistence lifestyle has survived in harmony with nature for thousands of years; and by others as an expanding shipping route between Asia and Europe and a vast source of trillions of dollars of oil and gas waiting to be uncovered.

Arctic nations - the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark (including Greenland), Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden (shown below) – are facing unprecedented dilemmas over economic development and ecosystem protection. Added to the mix is the impact of climate change; the Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe causing polar ice to disappear at an unprecedented rate.

Ironically, climate change represents a major economic opportunity for the Arctic. As the sea ice is retreating it is reducing the cost of oil and mineral exploration, and with an estimated 22% of the world's undiscovered conventional oil and gas in the Arctic, the stakes are high. In April 2017 President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order aimed at expanding offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic (reversing efforts by President Obama) and Russian land-based oil and natural gas production in the Arctic is peaking year after year.

Melting sea ice is also opening up new, faster shipping routes connecting the Pacific to the Atlantic and China to Western Europe. Chinese backed industrial development of deep-water ports in Arctic nations has been taking place for the last decade.

Together, this industrial development would undoubtedly continue to boost the region's economy and provide more jobs, but it comes at a huge social and environmental cost. The drilling, mining and shipping associated with this development will, arguably, ruin the fragile Arctic environment, destroy indigenous lifestyles and accelerate global warming. Environmentalists - and many local populations - are worried, and for good reason. To many, the costs outweigh the economic benefits of progress and the need for careful stewardship of the Arctic region was one of the key drivers behind the Arctic Council and the Arctic Circle Secretariat being formed.

With the formal economy of the Arctic now based on the large-scale exploration and use of natural resources, and many livelihoods still relying on traditional subsistence industries (such as fishing), the region needs to diversify its economic development away from these primary industries. There is an urgent need to create well-paid, skilled, secondary and tertiary jobs in the Arctic; jobs that improve the economic, social AND environmental welfare of its peoples.

So, given all of this - what if there was an industry that was one of the fastest growing in the world, that provides skilled, well-paid ‘future-proof’ jobs? An industry that will not harm the Arctic’s environment - but can be established in harmony with the natural surroundings? An industry that underpins growth in an astonishing range of business verticals and creates numerous secondary and service opportunities in the region? An industry that actually benefits from the natural assets that the Arctic can provide?

Step-up, the data center industry!

The accelerating demand for data and compute means the data center industry is booming – and here to stay. Data centers offer very significant economic value for host countries – creating skilled jobs (both direct and indirect) and supporting a complex and high-value supply chain of products and services. And the Arctic region is ideally placed to benefit from the expanding data center industry. Firstly, its cold climate means that far less energy is required to cool down servers (if any, when using free, ambient air-cooling). Secondly, the energy needed for running the servers can be generated with 100% renewable energy sources such as hydro-electric and geothermal – all abundantly present in the region. Together these give the Arctic region a compelling, competitive advantage over its more southerly neighbours, with savings on the cost of power alone at 70-80%, and all of this wrapped-up in a 100% sustainable offering.

In Iceland, Verne Global are taking this story to the next level - not only harnessing the Arctic region’s natural attributes to offer cost-effective data center solutions - but combining this with best-in-class technical expertise focused specifically towards high performance, high density and intensive computing. This ‘marriage’ between Iceland’s environment and technical excellence is providing power hungry compute such as HPC, grid computing, AI and machine learning with a unique, specialised Arctic home.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next decade within the Arctic region, but the data center industry and its pioneers like Verne Global offer a near-perfect solution to drive sustainable, economic and social development. By harnessing the Arctic’s natural attributes – rather than exploiting them - the data center industry can help both prosper and protect. It’s a win win situation for everyone.

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