Apple plans two European data centers running on renewable energy

With data storage in the European Union, the company will not need to export data to the U.S. or other data protection regimes

Apple plans to open two European data centers running on renewable energy in 2017, following similar moves by Google and Facebook in the region.

The new data centers will host a number of Apple services for European customers, including the iTunes Store, App Store, iMessage text messaging service, Apple Maps and Siri, its voice-controlled personal assistant. By hosting the data within the European Union, Apple could avoid the need to export EU users' data to the U.S. or other data protection regimes, a sensitive issue as EU legislators discuss renewing the bloc's data protection regime.

Apple plans to spend a total of €1.7 billion (US$1.9 billion) on the two data centers, which will each cover around 166,000 square meters.

The company's plans to use green power -- in line with its policy in the U.S., where it has built photovoltaic plants alongside new data centers -- will win it local allies, although other U.S. technology giants, including Facebook and Google, have already opened data centers on the continent with strong green credentials.

Facebook opened its first non-U.S. data center in Luleå, Sweden, in June 2013, using hydroelectric power from the local utility. The data center's location on the edge of the Arctic Circle makes free cooling an obvious and economic option, with waste heat used to warm offices on the site.

Google plans to power its data center in Finland with electricity from a wind farm in neighboring Sweden when the facility opens later this year.

Apple too is counting on wind power, and plans to site its new facilities in two of Europe's windiest countries, Ireland and Denmark.

The Danish data center will be in Viborg in central Jutland, and will feed waste heat into the district heating system. Apple will build no new generating capacity there initially, but the data center will be connected directly to the country's power grid, which already obtains 28 percent of its electricity from the wind, according to the Danish Wind Industry Association.

The other data center will be in Athenry, Ireland, where Apple plans to reclaim land currently used for commercial forestry in Athenry, and to help restore a patch of native woodland in Roscommon, some 70 kilometers from the data center.

Apple said it will work with local partners to develop additional wind or other renewable energy generation projects in the future.

Peter Sayer covers general technology breaking news for IDG News Service, with a special interest in open source software and related European intellectual property legislation. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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