China’s Guangdong province, a major technology hub on the southeast coast, plans to move some of its big data centres to new sites under the sea in a bid to cut energy use, according to plan published on Tuesday.
Data centres have emerged as one of the biggest industrial consumers of energy. Building them underwater will reduce the need for cooling technology, which can account for around a third of a facility’s total electricity consumption.
Major cities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai will be encouraged to relocate “high energy consuming data centres” to underwater locations, the five-year marine economy development plan said.
The provincial government will lend support for related technological breakthroughs, it added.
The plan comes on the heels of efforts by the southern Chinese island province of Hainan, which has commenced work on the world’s first undersea commercial data centre aiming to complete it in five years.
In 2018, Microsoft lowered a non-commercial data centre the size of a truck about 35 metres (117 feet) into the sea off Britain. The miniature data centre was retrieved last year, and Microsoft declared the experiment a success.
Greenpeace has warned that electricity consumption from China’s data centres and 5G base stations is set to almost quadruple from 2020 to 2035, making the sector one of the fastest growing sources of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions.
Environmentalists have also expressed concern, however, about the impact of higher water temperatures and noise pollution from undersea data centres on surrounding marine life.
China’s industry ministry said this year it would urge data centres to make full use of renewable energy and encourage them to build their own renewable power plants.
• Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard