Singapore wants only data centres that are efficient

Singapore's trade minister says it will be "more selective" of data centres it will allow in the country, singling out facilities that demonstrate high "resource efficiency".

Singapore says it will allow new data centres to be erected on the city-state, following a temporary halt on the construction of such facilities. These sites, however, will need to demonstrate high "resource efficiency". 

The government would be "more selective" of the data centres it planned to accommodate, said Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong, in his written reply to a question posed during this week's parliament session. 

Noting that the country remained open to data centre investments, he said these should result in facilities that were "best in class in terms of resource efficiency" and could contribute towards Singapore's economic and strategic objectives. 

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The government in 2019 kicked off a review of the industry, which Gan said was necessary as data centres were critical enablers in a digital economy, but also consumed significant resources. 

"We had to find a way to manage the growth of data centres in a sustainable manner consistent with our climate change commitments," he said. 

Singapore has a 10-year roadmap to drive sustainable developments and achieve its goal of net zero emissions as soon as viable. The Singapore Green Plan 2030 outlines various targets across different areas, including plans to deploy enough solar energy to power 350,000 households a year, cut waste sent to landfill by 30%, and have at least 20% of schools be carbon-neutral.

As of 2021, Singapore has more than 70 operational data centres, with a total available IT capacity of some 1,000 megawatts (MW), according to Gan. 

The government would introduce measures to raise the efficiency of existing data centres over time, he said. He further revealed that the industry review was recently completed and details would be shared "soon". 

In a February 2021 statement, Singapore's then-MInister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said the government had put a "temporary pause" on the release of land for data centres and the development of such facilities on existing land. 

Chan said: "Singapore's political stability and reliable infrastructure are conducive for operating data centres.  However, data centres are intensive users of water and electricity. We will, thus, need to manage the data centre ecosystem to ensure it is environmentally sustainable, while supporting our business needs. We will strive for quality, not quantity. This means we seek to anchor a range of data centres that can meet both industry and society's needs, are best in class in terms of resource efficiency, and that continuously innovate to push the boundaries of resource efficiency of data centres in a tropical climate."

He noted that 14 facilities with a total capacity of 768MW were approved for construction on state land over the previous five years, up from 12 data centres with a capacity of 307MW in the preceding five-year period. The "rapid" increase prompted the government to moderate the growth and halt the release of land space. 

Google, Facebook, and Alibaba, are amongst several global technology players that have data centres in Singapore to support their operations here. 

Two Singapore universities last June set up a SG$23 million ($17.39 million) research fund to develop sustainable cooling technologies for data centres operating in tropical locations. The initiative included a testbed facility and also involved five other industry players, including Keppel Data Centres, Ascenix, and Red Dot Analytics. 

In July 2021, a floating solar farm spanning 45 hectares, or about 45 football fields, commenced operations over Singapore's Tengeh Reservoir. Comprising 122,00 solar panels, the renewable energy site boasts a 60 megawatt-peak (MWp) capacity and is touted to be able to generate enough energy to power five local water treatment plants.

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