CloudHQ, a hyperscale data center developer and operator in the United States and Europe, is currently constructing a 112-megawatt, 1.2 million sqft (108k sqm), hyperscale data center campus in Offenbach, Germany, a city which borders Frankfurt to the southeast. At full build-out, CloudHQ’s Frankfurt data center campus, which involves a total investment of €1.1bn, will be the largest in Germany.
Even in one of Europe’s fastest growing data center markets, CloudHQ’s development project in the Frankfurt area, is controversial. While Offenbach’s Mayor Felix Schwenke states that “daten sind das neue gold” or, in English, “data is the new gold”, many local stakeholders feel that, like gold, data should not be mined at all costs.
Focusing directly on CloudHQ’s hyperscale data center campus in Offenbach, Germany, environmental criticisms regarding the project have arisen in four distinct areas: i) energy consumption, ii) waste heat, iii) diesel use through backup generators, and iv) noise pollution.
With this background, Dgtl Infra reviews the specifics of CloudHQ’s massive data center development in the Frankfurt area and analyzes each of the four previously noted environmental criticisms of the project in further detail.
CloudHQ – Offenbach (Frankfurt), Germany Data Center
CloudHQ’s Frankfurt data center development project is situated on Lämmerspieler Weg in the east part of Offenbach am Main, Germany. As shown below, this 37-acre (15-hectare) site is located within Offenbach’s development plan #564 (Bebauungsplan Nummer 564) – see top right.
CloudHQ intends to develop two, 2-story data center buildings, each with 56 megawatts of power capacity and 581k sqft (54k sqm) of floor space. Therefore, the CloudHQ data center campus in Offenbach, Germany will ultimately span 112 megawatts of power capacity across 1.2 million sqft (108k sqm) of floor space. Overall, CloudHQ will divide this space into a total of 18 data halls.
By the end of 2022, CloudHQ plans to deliver the first of two buildings at the campus. Additionally, the foundation work for the second building was scheduled to begin in Q4 2021.
CloudHQ is partnering with Energieversorgung Offenbach (EVO), an electric utility company, to supply the future data center campus with 172 MVA of utility power. Specifically, an on-site substation will supply the data halls with electricity.
In terms of energy efficiency, CloudHQ targets a power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of less than 1.25 for its Offenbach, Germany data center campus.
CloudHQ’s site in Offenbach, Germany is in close proximity to the DE-CIX internet exchange point (IXP) in Frankfurt, with only 5 miles (8 kilometers) separating the two locations. Importantly, DE-CIX Frankfurt is the largest internet exchange point (IXP) globally, as measured by average traffic throughput. Presently, DE-CIX averages ~7.5 terabits per second (Tbps) of traffic.
Upon completion of the development project, CloudHQ anticipates creating a total of ~150 jobs in operations, maintenance, and security roles. Of this total, about 70 to 80 employees would have highly-skilled positions with an average annual salary of €75k.
Historically, CloudHQ’s customer base has been characterized by hyperscale customers (e.g., cloud service providers) signing large, 30- to 70-megawatt leasing deals. For example, Facebook (Meta), Google, and Microsoft have leased capacity from CloudHQ in the markets of Ashburn and Manassas, Virginia.
Environmental Criticism – CloudHQ in Offenbach, Germany
Given the scale of CloudHQ’s Offenbach data center development, as Germany’s largest, critics have pointed to the project’s potential to endanger Germany’s climate protection goals. Particularly, environmental concerns surrounding the project have fallen into four key categories: i) energy consumption, ii) waste heat, iii) diesel use through backup generators, and iv) noise pollution.
Leading the climate awareness initiative has been the Lokale Agenda 21 (Local Agenda 21), an independent citizens’ group in Germany that advocates for sustainability issues. Indeed, the Lokale Agenda 21 has expressed strong criticism regarding their environmental concerns of CloudHQ’s Offenbach data center development, previously calling for a ‘replanning’ of the project, in order to take ecological concerns into consideration. As a result of these initiatives and others, German municipalities nationwide are materially slowing down their approval processes for new data center applications.
Below is further specificity on the concerns of environmental awareness and advocacy groups surrounding CloudHQ’s Offenbach data center development.
With an estimated energy consumption of 981,000 MWh (megawatt hours), CloudHQ’s data center campus will utilize twice as much electricity as the whole city of Offenbach, Germany. In order to deliver this power, electric utility Energieversorgung Offenbach (EVO) has massively expanded its local power grid.
At the same time, the city of Offenbach wants this power to be procured from renewable energy sources. However, in reality, this is problematic given the volume of power and certainty of delivery, required for CloudHQ’s data center campus. Moreover, the timing of the development’s initial phase, which is scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2022, places added pressure on renewable energy sourcing.
As such, CloudHQ may need to enter into power purchase agreements (PPAs) to acquire renewable energy credits (RECs) from producers of wind and solar power. Still, this strategy does not improve Offenbach’s direct energy mix or promote future change towards Germany’s renewable energy goals.
Data centers at the scale of CloudHQ’s Offenbach project, house thousands of servers, which produce immense amounts of heat, that ultimately needs to be cooled and removed from the facility. To this end, CloudHQ intends to leverage free cooling, meaning the use of the naturally cool air outside of its data centers to cool its infrastructure. In other words, waste heat from the data center’s IT equipment and cooling systems is simply being released back into the environment.
More sensibly, new development projects, including those in the Frankfurt area, are connecting data centers to local district heating networks, enabling waste energy to heat thousands of homes and businesses. Unfortunately, no mandatory use of waste heat was specified as part of CloudHQ’s development approval process, which is in contrast to more recent data center build projects. Indeed, financial expenditures are often cited as rationale for not implementing these waste energy initiatives.
Diesel-Powered Backup Generators
Reliable primary power is critical for CloudHQ to serve the essential applications of its hyperscale customers like Facebook (Meta), Google, and Microsoft. Simultaneously, the company needs reliable backup generators in the event that its primary utility feed becomes unavailable.
Presently, diesel-powered backup generators will serve as CloudHQ’s auxiliary and emergency power source at its Frankfurt area data center. Specifically, diesel fuel is stored in bulk, in above ground storage tanks for backup generator use.
For data center operators like CloudHQ, using diesel-powered backup generators is often the cheapest solution for meeting their backup power needs. However, when this diesel is used/burned it creates emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas. As such, regulatory restrictions are being placed on the future use of diesel generators, with the intention of not allowing new data centers to receive permits to install diesel generators.
Beyond emissions, diesel generators also generate significant noise pollution. To this end, during monthly test runs of CloudHQ’s diesel generators the noise pollution has been likened to “several hundred trucks driving past at the same time”.
Per Lokale Agenda 21, on-site alternatives to diesel generators which meet the principles of renewable energy, include hydrogen fuel cells, installed solar capacity, and biogas. However, once again, the pushback on these alternatives is cost.
CloudHQ – Overview
Since inception in 2016, CloudHQ has completed the development of 1.2 million sqft of data center space. Additionally, the company is currently constructing an incremental 1.7 million sqft of data center space. Overall, these facilities comprise 430 megawatts of power capacity across 7 buildings.
Geographically, CloudHQ’s existing and planned data center campuses include Ashburn, Virginia; Manassas, Virginia; Mount Prospect (Chicago), Illinois; London (Didcot), UK; Paris, France; Frankfurt (Offenbach), Germany; and São Paulo, Brazil, amongst other markets.
CloudHQ’s principal shareholders include Hossein Fateh (Fateh Family Office), who is the CEO and President of CloudHQ, as well as Keith Harney, the CFO and COO of CloudHQ.