Green datacentres and digital connectivity: vision and action plan for Scotland

Setting out co-ordinated action to support Scotland’s digital ambition and green economic recovery from COVID-19.

Background to the plan

Datacentres powered by renewable energy and international fibre connections are key parts of the digital and data economy.

The ability to benefit from and make the most of cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and other data-driven technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) will, in large part, be influenced by our ability to move data quickly and cost effectively across and between nations.

With the appropriate support, interventions and investment, Scotland can generate significant new economic growth from data storage, management and innovation.  

This Vision and Action Plan has been developed to:

  • attract new investors that require high-speed data transit to locate in Scotland and take advantage of enhanced terrestrial and international fibre connectivity
  • build on its capacity to generate energy from renewable sources
  • ensure that the full economic and social potential of technologies, such as 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are realised across all parts of Scotland
  • improve Scottish competiveness and internet resilience providing direct links to other countries and markets.

The COVID-19 pandemic has served to reinforce the importance of broadband and mobile networks as a key component of Scotland’s critical national and international infrastructure.

Working from home, remote teaching and learning, online delivery of public services and video conferencing have all become the norm.

This has led to a significant rise in data use and increased demand for the fast, reliable and resilient broadband and mobile infrastructure required to support numerous digital devices and communications.

Although telecoms remains reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish Government has already intervened to vastly improve broadband and mobile coverage. In recent years, over £1 billion has been invested in such programmes.  These include Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB), Reaching 100% (R100) and Scottish 4G Infill (S4GI). These, alongside extensive commercial investment, have greatly extended the reach and capacity of fibre networks across Scotland.

This terrestrial fibre connectivity is a key part of Scotland’s digital infrastructure.  This enables faster broadband speeds, improved mobile coverage and the movement of data across the country. Countries at the forefront of digital innovation also have numerous fibre connections to their neighbours and a vibrant datacentres market, to enable the movement of data across the globe. Diversifying these international connections will increase the resilience of Scotland’s digital infrastructure. It will offer greater protection against potential cyber-attacks and service disruptions, while strengthening capacity and opening up new economic opportunities.

Datacentres are one such opportunity. Through co-ordinated action, we can position Scotland as a leading zero-carbon, cost competitive green data hosting location, which can contribute towards our ambition of achieving net zero emissions by 2045.

The Vision and Action Plan

The Action Plan identifies the following four inter-dependent pillars:

  • green datacentres market development
  • low cost renewable energy
  • terrestrial wholesale fibre connectivity
  • international subsea fibre connectivity

The four pillars set out a vision of Scotland as a country with:

  • a portfolio of different sized Scottish datacentres, from edge to hyperscale facilities, across geographic locations, delivering enhanced capacity and supported by a highly skilled workforce in Scotland
  • access to energy infrastructure that is robust, resilient, competitively priced and powered by renewable energy, generated in Scotland
  • multiple open access/dark fibre terrestrial fibre providers servicing urban, rural and island locations including direct links to Scotland’s coastlines
  • multiple subsea cable routes connecting Scotland directly to the European Union (EU), the European Economic Area (EEA) and the United States of America (USA)

Strategic actions:

  • create a Ministerial Working Group to oversee and co-ordinate activity in this area across Government and the wider public sector: it is proposed that this would include the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Minister for Trade, Innovation and Public Finance and Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment
  • establish green datacentres and terrestrial/international digital connectivity investment structures: work with Scottish Futures Trust to develop interventions where public action or funding may be required to attract further commercial and international capital investment

Green datacentres market development actions:

  • support the growth of Scottish Datacentre clusters: to co-ordinate marketing and engagement with international operators while consolidating and enhancing Scotland’s existing datacentre assets. Host in Scotland (HiS) provides a great platform to grow this activity in partnership with Scottish Enterprise (SE), Scottish Development International (SDI) and Scotland IS – and aligned with EU best practice in cluster managementCritical to the success of this will be enhancing links with other existing and emerging cluster groups in Scotland – for example: Scotland’s Data Cluster, Scotland’s Cyber Cluster, Fintech Scotland, Technology Scotland, Smart Mobility Scotland, IOT Scotland, etc.
  • support public sector data migration to Scottish cloud: work with the Scottish Government Cloud Programme and the Cloud Community to identify co-ordinated action to encourage the public sector to store its data in environmentally sustainable, green datacentres. This includes working directly with hyperscale partners to attract future investment in Scotland.
  • complete a strategic datacentre site analysis: using multiple socio-economic and technical factors to identify optimal locations across Scotland that would provide benefit to those locations and meet the requirements of datacentre operators (either individually or co-located) and identify any additional green energy or digital infrastructure investment required
  • complete an edge datacentre site analysis: using multiple socio-economic and technical factors to identify optimal locations across Scotland that would meet the requirements of edge network deployment and identify any additional green energy or digital infrastructure required
  • ensure opportunities to increase datacentre management and engineering skills across Scotland are maximised: identify existing and future skills shortages and gaps in datacentre management and engineering (datacentres, fibre carriers, power providers, subsea etc) and work with partners to promote opportunities

Low cost renewable energy actions:

  • ensure Scottish Government funding programmes for low carbon energy and the forthcoming framework for investment in energy technology innovation explore and support the opportunities for using waste heat from datacentres for heat and other energy use
  • develop a cold green storage proposition in rural areas: by identifying the lowest cost of renewable power available in Scotland, packaging a cold storage datacentre product and developing and launching a marketing plan through Host in Scotland.
  • work with OFGEM and the UK Government, following publication of OFGEM’s Access Charging Review: to ensure that changes to network access charging does not act as a barrier to the commercial case for private wire arrangements for datacentre projects in Scotland
  • continue to develop Scotland’s capabilities and capacity as a source of skilled workforce – including reskilling opportunities for those coming out of traditional energy industry jobs

Terrestrial wholesale fibre connectivity actions:

  • dark fibre provision: continue to work with OFCOM to understand the regulatory context of dark fibre provided by BT, as well as working with other providers to understand where they provide dark fibre and under what conditions
  • develop a long-term data strategy and sustainable approach to the collection of data on fibre infrastructure assets in Scotland: what exists now, where the gaps are, what can be done to fill the gaps, and with the ability to monitor and report progress on that journey
  • continue to work with Network Rail Telecom (NRT) and Transport Scotland on opportunities to share and install fibre across the rail and road networks: this would not only provide significant benefits for operational communications but also deliver collateral benefits to lineside and roadside communities.

International subsea fibre connectivity:

  • develop a subsea cable landing plan for Scotland: to connect datacentres and international subsea cables in the West, North and East of Scotland and work with Crown Estate Scotland and others to develop a coherent package of measures and incentives that can be made available to attract new investment by subsea cable developers
  • Support the development of business cases for private, public or partnership investment in new international subsea cable routes: as a priority for critical national infrastructure and work with industry to understand potential barriers to accessing finance, and potential sources of finance such as infrastructure funds, City and Regional Growth Deals or Scottish National Investment Bank opportunities to ensure that alignments with the Bank’s missions and objectives can be identified and taken advantage of.

Scotland's Digital Strategy

Our overall digital infrastructure ambitions are set out in A Changing Nation: How Scotland Will Thrive in a Digital World, the updated Digital Strategy for Scotland published on 11 March 2021.

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