The spatial and energy impact of data centers on the territories

Synthesis of the ENERNUM project

20 May 2019ContactCécile Diguet, Fanny Lopez (École d’architecture de la ville & des territoires de Paris-Est)

The spatial and energy impact of data centers is becoming more and more impacting for territories, given the unprecedented and massive growth of data creation and exchanges, leading to large storage needs. Data centers are very diverse in size, use, stakeholders and sitings. This makes the understanding of their dynamics and spatial effects complex.
This report aims at describing the data center landscape in France and in three locations in the United States, each being representative of different spatial and energy situations (rural, suburban, urban). They are potentially disruptive of local energy systems, and their accumulation in urban areas as their spreading in rural ones are a concern for urban and regional planning. Data centers are thoroughly analyzed here to better apprehend how new digital territories emerge, how energy solidarities can be built and new governances implemented.
There is a specific focus on alternative digital infrastructures that have been developing, both in Africa, South America and in the less connected territories of Europe and the United States. Dedicated to both Internet access and, increasingly, to hosting services, they are a distributed, peer-to-peer response whose environmental impact seems ultimately more limited than the centralized and large-scale infrastructures, because they are calibrated closer to the users’ needs. They also appear more resilient to climate events and computing attacks because less technically centralized and less spatially concentrated.
They are therefore an option to consider and support, but also to better evaluate, to reduce the spatial and energy impacts of data centers. The report presents prospective visions of three possible digital worlds, based on global trends and emerging signals: "Growth and digital ultra-centralization;” "Stabilization of the Digital Technical System and infrastructural diversity: a quest for a difficult resilience;" "Digital ultra-decentralization: the end of data centers?”
Recommendations for France context are finally proposed around three tracks: actors and governance; urbanism and environment; energy. Research subjects to develop further are also presented.

This study is linked to the following themes :
Economy | Urban planning