There are two types of sites for data centers:

  • Sites that will work to meet the client’s business needs
  • Sites that are so well-suited they’ll elevate a client’s business strategies

The difference lies in the approach. Beginning the search with a list of available sites that are being publicly marketed for sale can be a time-saver, but it can also result in sites that are merely adequate for a data center’s needs. Even working from a list of minimum requirements (acreage, utility access and demographics, for instance) can exclude potential sites that may be a better match.

An Engineer’s Perspective on Site Selection

Starting that same search from an engineering viewpoint can yield sites that are a much stronger fit —sites that help data center clients achieve speed to market and that lower the total cost of ownership.

Site selection criteria for data centers and power generation facilities are remarkably similar, so an independent, unbiased consultant with knowledge in both facility types can provide a new perspective. Burns & McDonnell certainly fits the bill; in the past decade alone we’ve sited nearly 100,000 megawatts of new power generation.

Keys to Data Center Site Selection

How can companies be assured their data center is in the right place? With a strategic and artful evaluation of the many elements that combine to create a great site.

Here are five keys to siting a data center that you almost certainly already know about:

  • Power: Reliable, redundant and low-cost — diverse feeders and renewable sources are a plus
  • Water: For evaporative cooling, if used — considering availability, cost and regulations
  • Network connectivity: Ideally with diverse carriers and paths
  • Low risk: Dry and cool climates with a low risk of severe weather events
  • Permitting: Air/environmental permitting processes achievable on schedule

And here are three keys for a great data center site that may not be on your radar:

  • Integration with a power source: Matchmaking data centers with power generation facilities (existing or planned) can yield many benefits.
    • Siting a data center closer to the generator can mean better power quality and reduced transmission charges.
    • Co-locating near existing power plant sites or renewables can encourage shared costs.
    • A good database of pending coal plant retirements can offer data center clients additional options. Google is currently developing a facility at a retired coal plant.
  • Load generation balancing: Analyzing a utility’s transmission system can identify ideal locations on the power grid for siting a large data center load — an approach that offers dual benefits.
    • The data center load could increase the capacity of existing power plants that are being curtailed or otherwise sitting idle, or alleviate congestion along constrained transmission paths.
    • The data center could potentially negotiate a better rate in exchange for helping balance load across a utility’s service territory.
  • Data mining for strategic siting: Tools that aggregate telecommunications and utility data for analysis provide a rich foundation for strategic siting.
    • As the developer of Geotel’s TeleTracker® — an online portal for telecommunications data built on Burns & McDonnell’s proprietary OneTouchPM® platform — we can customize the platform to bring in client-specific data.
    • GridScore — Burns & McDonnell’s in-house transmission capacity product geared towards new power plant development — offers a massive catalog of electric infrastructure data for search and analysis.

We’re not just thinking about sites that will work for data center clients; we’re focused on finding the best sites. (Hey, some of our best utility sites were farmland that never showed up on any of the typical lists.) Interested in this approach for your data center? Reach out to me on LinkedIn.

Parker Hills is a senior energy developer at Burns & McDonnell. He focuses on the development of new power generation, electric transmission, data centers and process/industrial facilities.