China’s Highlander plans to commercialise subsea data centres

China’s Highlander plans to commercialise subsea data centres

Chinese company Highlander, which specialises in maritime and marine technology, has built what is described as the first commercial underwater data centre facility off Hainan island in China – and now wants to sell submerged data centre facilities to global customers.

According to the website Data Centre Dynamics, building of the commercial underwater data centre (UDC) began in February 2022 and finished In December 2022.

Highlander is now preparing the facility for live loads. It says it has adapted subsea technology so it can produce commercial subsea facilities to order for potential export to other countries. It has apparently also received UDC orders from companies including China Telecom and Hong Kong-based AI software company SenseTime.

The company is also planning to build a net-zero data centre, powered by offshore wind power, in Shanghai and Hainan. This will begin later this year.

Underwater data centres (UDCs) are seen by their proponents as an energy-efficient and space-saving alternative to land-based facilities. They can be located close to population centres without the need for expensive land and can be cooled by seawater and potentially powered by wave energy, which is useful in tropical regions where other renewable energy is scarce.

Microsoft tested the concept of UDCs off the US Pacific coast in 2015,and again off the Orkney Islands in Scotland, in 2020.

While this has so far not produced a rush to market there seems to be evidence that underwater data centres increase the reliability of IT hardware by protecting it from oxygen and accidental damage, and that they can also harness multiple sources of renewable energy.

All of this, however, depends on whether underwater equipment can be produced that is reliable and affordable, a challenge Highlander may have addressed.


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