Climate change and the priorities that emerged after confinement have somewhat changed Cáceres’s place in the world. From being a city and a remote province in the far west of the peninsula, it has become a paradise of photovoltaic energy and in a territory with tricks for a sustainable future, which attracts the eyes of international companies. Its good weather, its low seismic incidence, its location between Portugal and Madrid, and aspects such as the less polluting life that its citizens lead, have made it the city chosen to open the first carbon neutral data center of the European Union.
The company that develops it is the Spanish company Ingenostrum, one of the largest engineering firms in Europe with projects in a dozen countries. It already announced last May the creation of the CC Green Eco-Industrial Park, which plans to occupy between 250 and 300 hectares in Las Capellanías, in an area already qualified for Industrial use next to the A-66. In addition to the data center (data center), the firm has specified to this newspaper that it has planned other uses related to energy transition, such as four pilot methanization centers (creating synthetic natural gas with CO2), green ammonia, methanol and vertical crops, along with two of its own photovoltaic plants and a large training center for VET and engineering related to the data centers.
This park, created with the support of the University of Extremadura, with which Ingenostrum has been developing a chair for years with which it is particularly satisfied, will house other spaces that can be used by different companies and entrepreneurs that are aligned with the ecological transition , the decarbonization of production and the development of technologies, that is, with that change in the economy and in society that the 2030 Agenda focuses on. It will be a park especially dedicated to this. “That is why we have chosen Cáceres. the province and the municipal term are on the way to becoming a renewable HUB, that is to say, in one of the places in Europe with the most installed megawatts (MW) of green energy, due to its climatic benefits for photovoltaic energy and due to the two large hydroelectric plants in Cedillo and Alcántara “, explains Santiago Rodríguez, CEO of Ingenostrum , trained in Civil Engineering at the Polytechnic School of Cáceres, his hometown.
Cáceres: digital focus
As a result of this abundant, ecological and cheap energy, the person in charge considers that Cáceres can also transform into a HUB digital, as it is also located in the middle of the most important interconnection nodes on the peninsula, between the arrival point of submarine cables from the Atlantic and Madrid (it is already the 5th European node after Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam and Paris).
Likewise, Ingenostrum has chosen Cáceres for the upcoming construction on the campus of the National Center for Energy Research and Storage, which has an injection of 70 million euros from the Government, in which 150 scientists will work from 2025. And not only that. These new generation companies select their locations after evaluating the characteristics of the place, and the effects that its implementation will have. There Cáceres also wins.
“We calculate the carbon footprint that each Ingenostrum worker has, that is why we want to settle in sustainable spaces like Cáceres. We intend to show that no need to go to the big cities, that here the cost of living is affordable, that you have a greater purchasing power with the same salary, more space and better conditions, for example being able to take your children to school without large trips “, highlights Santiago Rodríguez. These technology companies even evaluate their contribution to the GDP of the area, or the square meters of housing in which their employees will be able to live.
Permits expected in 2023
Good ideas that already materialize in the form of paperwork. Ingenostrum works in required permits to develop the three urban sectors in which it intends to be located, which have public owners (institutions and foundations) and some private ones. “We want to do it as quickly as possible, but with the greatest security. If the development proceeds with the scheduled times, we could have the permits between June and September 2023”, underlines the CEO of Ingenostrum.
Now … what will the data center be like, the jewel in the crown of the new park and the first carbon-free facility in the EU of its kind? Like all those in its field, it will consist of a space for the storage of data that citizens send through electronic devices (mobile phones, computers …), and that do not stop growing with the unstoppable development of new technologies . The center will start with a capacity of 30 MW with the goal of reaching 100 MW (even expandable). Its novelty is that it will not leave a carbon footprint, since it will be fed by two photovoltaic plants Also developed by Ingenostrum together with the park, one of 400 MW connected to the grid and another of 130 MW for self-consumption. Both will be in charge of supplying 100% green energy to the project.
Not surprisingly, Ingenostrum is making investments in renewable energies in different countries (worldwide it has 9,200 MW in ready or pending production plants). In Extremadura it is involved in several solar parks with 350 MW already in operation, 550 MW in execution, and another 4,904 MW in projects under development with other companies.
The availability of these plants next to the new park will allow obtaining the kilowatt hour to 7.2 cents, while in other European cities it exceeds 20.
In addition, the center will have technological resources that they will take advantage of the outside air to cool the interior areas where the equipment is located, and it will have a cooling system based on geothermal energy, through an artificial lake. All this developed with the necessary criteria to obtain a TIER III certification (very high) in the safety and reliability of the center. And it is that these spaces have become key for the economy and companies, especially as a result of the confinement. Europe has realized the importance of digital technologies in the shift to a cleaner and more sustainable economy and society.
The engineering of the data center has been contracted to the company Quark, an expert in these projects, with a market share of more than 70% in Spain. In addition, Ingenostrum has partnered with the American consulting firm TLM so that the center of Cáceres, among the largest in the world, meets all the standards of the international market.
The rest of the uses that Ingenostrum will carry out in the new Capellanías park will be high innovation pilot projects based on the strategy of decarbonization. One of them will focus on the manufacture of green ammonia, a very necessary alternative for companies that produce fertilizers with fossil energy, since, due to the high prices of natural gas and the ton of CO2, they have stopped the production of these fertilizers, which has a very negative impact on the value of food production.
Green ammonia research center, intended for fertilizer companies. Ingenostrum
The Cáceres plant will try to generate green ammonia at low cost (through the electricity provided by photovoltaics, transformed into green hydrogen), to export it through the ports of Huelva or Portugal, or sell it to Spanish fertilizer companies. This project would also include, in the spaces at the foot of the coast, the possibility of achieve the necessary water from desalination plants, but in Cáceres obviously that part is not experienced.
Synthetic gas and biomethane
Other pilot projects, also with the objective of ecological transition, will consist of work themethanization, “that is, obtaining synthetic natural gas through CO2 from biogas and other sources, which reacts with green H2 to produce methane and biomethane. In this scenario of prices and uncertainty of international supply, they could not only have an attractive cost but, more importantly, increase the security of the local energy supply and reduce dependence on imports of fossil natural gas “, indicates Santiago Rodríguez.
The third center will be based on manufacturing methanol, an industrial raw material that can be obtained in a more environmentally friendly way. And there is another very curious project, whose agreement is expected to be signed with the School of Agricultural Engineering of the Uex, which consists of the installation of vertical greenhouses (vertical farming). “They are very productive per unit area, but they need artificial lighting for the growth of crops. The existence of photovoltaic plants would reduce this problem in Cáceres, where they will experiment with high-value crops for industries such as pharmaceuticals or perfumery” , reveals the CEO of Ingenostrum.
Vertical greenhouse project to experiment with crops of high industrial value. Ingenostrum
This first group of projects would be crowned with an extensive training center linked to the energy transition. “There is a lack of professionals for the data center industry and we want to train them in both VET and engineering,” he says.
The company does not want to set expectations of the number of jobs in Cáceres until the projects begin to roll, but its policy consists of incorporating, in addition to engineers and specialists in different areas, inclusive jobs, that is, people at risk of exclusion and in a situation vulnerable.