As our dependence on cloud-based online services grows, so does the demand for massive data centres to host the data. However, this trend is posing challenges in some countries. Microsoft, for example, has faced opposition from local farmers in the Netherlands for its plans to construct another hyperscale data centre in the region.
Hyperscale data centres, typically over 10,000 square feet, are necessary to meet the growing demands of cloud-based services. However, they are also raising environmental concerns in the Netherlands, such as land occupancy and nitrogen emissions. The Dutch government implemented regulations in 2022 to restrict such constructions in most parts of the country, but Microsoft was granted an exemption for its ongoing project.
Despite the exemption, the construction of the new data centre has met with resistance from the local community, especially farmers concerned about the project’s impact on the environment and their livelihoods. The Netherlands is currently grappling with nitrogen pollution, emitting four times more nitrogen than the rest of the EU. The government has set a target to halve its emissions by 2030. After investigating its potential nitrogen emissions, Microsoft’s project has been granted a “clear judgment” from the local environmental agency.
However, this assurance has not calmed the worries of local farmers who feel that large tech companies are taking over their lands. “There’s a lot of criticism that the landscape is changing,” said Jeroen Candel, an associate professor of food and agricultural policy at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Many local farmers are concerned about the impact on their communities and whether the construction of data centres is worth the environmental and social costs.
The construction of hyperscale data centres will likely continue, especially with the rise of AI-based services like Microsoft’s BingAI Chat. However, it is crucial to address such constructions’ environmental and social impact before it is too late. The Netherlands is just one example of how the demand for data centres poses challenges in countries worldwide. It is time for governments, tech companies, and local communities to work together to find sustainable solutions that balance the need for technological advancement with protecting the environment and local communities.