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Morgan Stanley Floats Tidal Power Plans

Posted Oct 28 2008 4:07pm

Waves strike a beach in Scotland's Northern Highlands Morgan Stanley plans to build a 150-megawatt data center powered entirely by tidal energy off the coast of Scotland, the banking giant announced earlier this month. The project would require investment of at least $380 million and face a number of regulatory hurdles before coming online in 2011, but these could prove minor snags relative to the financial tsunami now battering the company on Wall Street. A still greater challenge could be feeding power-hungry data centers in the event that carbon intensive energy becomes unaffordable and electricity grids become maxed out or unstable.

Data centers house computer servers that store digital information and process electronic transactions. They use a staggering amount of energy running not only the servers themselves, but also air conditioning systems, since the machines require rigid temperature and humidity control. In the United Kingdom, data centers account for 3 percent of total electricity use and are expected to use twice that amount by 2020.

According to BBC Scotland, Morgan Stanley and partner Atlantis Resources (a Singapore-based turbine developer in which the bank holds a major stake) plan to channel heat from the servers into nearby greenhouses--possibly on Prince Charles' organic farm in the North Highlands. 

In the big picture, the project is part of a strategy to weather the consequences of global climate change. That's according to John Woodley, co-head of the firm's European and Asian power, gas, and related businesses for Morgan Stanley, who spoke with The Guardian last week. Despite recent market turmoil, he said, "The longer term risks and opportunity presented by climate change and energy security remain. We will continue to seek investments that promise scale and commercial viability." 

A key to the project's viability is a scheme to sidestep grid transmission, which one Scottish official called "the biggest barrier for any large-scale renewable energy project." Instead of joining the line of renewable energy projects waiting to plug into the national electricity grid, Morgan Stanley plans to lay private cable lines and tap currents directly. Revenue could come from leasing servers to companies with growing computing needs.

Google certainly matches that description, but the search and advertising company may be an unlikely customer. It filed for a patent last month on a floating tidal-powered data center that would store servers in shipping containers stacked on a barge.

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