“Will this site work?”

Clients seeking assistance in strategic site selection for data centers will inevitably ask this. That question, however, fails to get to the real purpose of strategic site selection. Finding a site that “works” is important, but finding a site with specific strategic advantages over other sites gives clients a competitive edge.

Finding such a site for any type of facility, including data centers, takes proven methodologies. Rather than simply evaluating sites marketed for data center development, engaging in a methodical site selection process often identifies better sites that add cost, schedule or other strategic advantages to a project.

Selecting a Site

The two main drivers for power generation site selection are also the drivers for selecting data center sites: access to the transmission system and ample water supply. This means that the same methods used to evaluate a power generation site can be leveraged to pursue candidate sites for data centers. By evaluating a transmission system’s ability to handle power flows from a generation source, planning engineers can also determine its ability to handle a load for a data center. For water availability, end use has little impact on the evaluation; therefore, current methodologies can be also applied.

It is increasingly important to evaluate the variability of power prices between sites. This involves looking not only at the published tariff rates for each utility, but also evaluating potential applicable rate riders, such economic development riders. Additionally, for projects desiring renewable power supplies, the availability of power purchase agreements (PPAs) from renewable power facilities should be investigated and compared to the locational marginal prices in the area to determine if economically attractive PPAs are available.

Gaining the Edge

Additional site selection advantages can be found when data center owners and operators collaborate with the power generation industry to choose safe locations for adding loads to the grid. Working together is advantageous to both parties, providing data center operators with the location they desire while protecting the grid from unnecessary load issues.

It is clear that there are a number of competitive advantages to be gained by employing a proven plan for strategic site selection. No matter what facility you are siting, using these methods will bring success and a competitive edge to your project.

Jeff Kopp is managing director of utility consulting at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell. He has more than 20 years of experience in consulting services for power generation, transmission and distribution projects. Jeff specializes in new power generation development, plant decommissioning, project acquisitions, due diligence evaluations, site evaluations and engineering reviews. He has a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from Missouri University of Science & Technology and a Master of Business Administration in finance from the University of Kansas.