Signs warn that the Facebook data center in the Danish city of Odense is not accessible to unauthorized persons.
The Danish city of Odense houses a colossal data center for Facebook.
Parent company Meta wants to build a similar server warehouse in Zeewolde.
For Odense, Facebook's wish matched the environment.
The city is also quite positive about Meta's attitude.
The crows outnumber people, it seems at a business park on the outskirts of the Danish city of Odense. A field between a fence and some thin trees has been completely taken over by birds. Nobody disturbs them here, because the street comes to a dead end against the green fence that is at least two and a half meters high.
'Ingen adgang — NO Trespassing', announce white signs attached to low posts at a fixed distance from each other. Behind the gate, a little uphill, gleams a silver shed with black blocks on top. Towards the south, the building almost seems to disappear into the horizon, it is that big. A quick look at the map shows: 'hyperscale' means 375 meters long.
Meta wants to build a similar server warehouse in the polder near Zeewolde. Flevoland is already talking about 200,000 square meters — with possible extensions. The city council in Zeewolde approved the change to the zoning plan for the area on Thursday evening. The arrival of the data halls is not yet certain, it depends, among other things, on land sales.
While the internet usually remains elusive behind our compact screens, here in Denmark the web is in full regalia in the middle of the landscape. Although 'landscape' is too great an honor for Tietgenbyen, an area with distribution companies, webshop warehouses and waste processors. Between all those small boxes, the data center is above all a much larger box.
'Isn't it also fair and logical that we "carry" our internet use by housing data centers in our cities?' wonders Christoffer Lilleholt. He is party leader in Odense for the center-right Venstre, which has been in opposition since 2009. Lilleholt was a critical councilor at the time when Odense was negotiating with Facebook. 'I remain critical of the fact that the electricity comes from Norway, but I admit: it is a positive process for the city.'
While the plans in Zeewolde meet with resistance due to spatial planning, priority on the power grid and decentralization, Odense is content with the colossal data center. The size and design are therefore the only similarities that both municipalities share: otherwise the circumstances are completely different.
'We once said: 'Der går Odense i den', or 'In Odense everything dies', jokes Mette Beck-Nielsen. She is director of the industry association Technology Denmark, which is based in Odense and facilitates collaborations between universities and companies to satisfy the great hunger for technical personnel. 'I grew up here and went to study in Copenhagen. When I came back with my partner in 2007, I saw it as a mountain. And now it's lovely here.'
Odense (180,000 inhabitants) reinvented itself and has been flourishing for several years now. The closure of the Maersk shipyards and other industry was severe. The municipality realized that the expertise in robots, an outgrowth of shipbuilding, was an opportunity to give the city a new impulse. 'The town hall invested in both the robotics cluster and the cultural offer. We now have a number of festivals and much more catering.'
Odense is robotics capital. Two local companies, Universal Robots and MiR, are owned by American Teradyne, which spent a total of €382 million on the acquisitions.
Facebook pumps the hot water from the data center to the connection station of Fjernvarme Fyn in Odense, where heat pumps further heat it to a usable temperature.
The city gained new confidence thanks to all these boosts. So much so that the arrival of Facebook, announced in 2017, fell on fertile ground. Odense, so cool that Facebook can't stay behind. Since then, criticism of Facebook has grown internationally when it comes to taxes, privacy, disinformation and bloody consequences such as violence in Myanmar.
Despite all the reputational damage, Odense is still satisfied with the data center. The city council unanimously approved the expansion to five buildings. And for good reason, because the residual heat from the complex benefits the city. Opposite one of the entrance gates of the data center — where, incidentally, nothing indicates that Facebook is here — is a much smaller building of Fjernvarme Fyn, the district heating company of Odense and the wide periphery on the island of Funen (Fyn in Danish).
The warm air generated by the servers in the data center heats a water system to about 25 to 27 degrees Celsius when it enters Fjernvarme Fyn. However, in order for it to be forwarded to end users, it must be 75 degrees. This is done with the help of heat pumps.
The temperature difference is remarkably large — does it make sense? 'Suppose we didn't have Facebook,' Jan Strømvig, director of the heating company, begins in his office. 'Then we would have to put heat pumps in the open air. These are of course less effective at fluctuating temperatures than when the water is around 25 degrees all year round.'
The heat is good for the equivalent of 11,000 households and that will increase as the data center grows. Fjernvarme Fyn, owned by the supplied municipalities, invested about €30 million in the installation to be able to use the heat. 'The idea is that we use the energy that the data center consumes twice.'
The location selection process for data centers is top secret. 'You don't know exactly who you are dealing with. The representatives are all called Jim or James," says the Dutch official Joost Nijhoff of the municipality of Odense. He heads the economic and tourism department of twenty employees. A Facebook blue spade flaunts in his study.
The scouts from Facebook ended up in Odense via the national government. Denmark streamlines data center applications from Copenhagen. Once it became clear that Facebook was serious, Odense set up a task force to oversee the project behind the scenes. 'The city council had confidential access to the papers more than a year before the announcement.'
Facebook was prepared for energy supply concerns: Will the data center eat up Denmark's offshore wind energy efforts? Nijhoff: 'They invested in a wind farm in Norway at the same time and quickly cut off that discussion. What remained was about employment. Facebook and the municipality have been honest about this: it only concerns a few hundred jobs, from security guards to IT specialists.'
When the five halls are there, parent company Meta expects it to need about 300 employees. In addition, Facebook is investing in Odense with a so-called community manager. For example, it supports an after-school robotics program for children and donated DKr 3 million (€400,000) to the middle class in the center during the coronalockdown.