Off-grid solar-powered data centre headed for regional Victoria on expansion path


Australian company Edge Centres had seemingly sprung up overnight when pv magazine first wrote about it May. Arriving full throttle out of the blue, the company’s founder and CEO Jonathan Eaves told pv magazine Australia this afternoon that he plans to have the first Victorian off-grid data centre up and running by November, fitted with 1 MW of solar, and 48 hour battery and UPS backup technology.

Edge Centres on Monday announced the development approval for the site, which will be in the central Victorian town of Bendigo, about 150 kilometres north of Melbourne.

In case you blinked and missed it, Edge Centres is aiming to rollout a string of grid-independent autonomous data centres across regional Australia powered by ground-mounted and rooftop solar arrays coupled with battery storage. It claims to be the world’s only off-grid edge data centre operator, and its service is set to put regional Australia on a par with metro communications technology for the first time ever, doing so in a carbon negative manner.

Coming back to the Bendigo announcement, Edge Centre’s facility there, the EC3, is to be 100% solar-powered will be built on an block which was previously a car yard. Eaves said he is confident the centre will operational in just two months as the solar array, which will be fully ground mounted in this case, comes in what he calls “kit form,” just like the insulated centre facility itself.

Meaning the only physical installation left is to lay a concrete slab and connect the solar. “Everything else comes ready made,” Eaves told pv magazine Australia.

The company said Bendigo is one of four additional Edge Centre facilities on track to begin operating in Australia this year, including another site in Victoria. So far, the company has four centres online, including a facility in the northern New South Wales (NSW) town of Grafton, as well as three in Queensland, in Townsville, Cairns and Mackay.

An artists impression of Edge Centres’ planned Dubbo facility, the EC4

Edge Centres

While Grafton, which has been operational since April, is fitted with a 1 MW solar array and backed up by lithium-ion battery storage, Eaves said the Queensland sites all still need to be retrofitted with solar – which is ultimately his plan.

In May, Edge Centres announced a partnership with Japanese IT strategy firm Alan Kei Associates to launch its first data centres in Japan. As far as that venture is concerned, Eaves said land for the Japanese centres have been secured and solar installations will begin next month, in October.

Why regional data centres are transformative

In Australia, regional data processing still generally occurs in metropolitan-based centres, taking time and extra processing power to make the long return journey to more remote areas.

Eaves previously painted a sample picture for pv magazine, saying data coming from a smart ‘agrotech’ tractor working autonomously in regional NSW today would likely travel all the way to Sydney, where the data would be correlated and computed, before the outcome could get sent back.

“Processing at the edge reduces that time, but it also reduces the workload on the internet,” he says. Regional Australia also pays between two to three times as much for data and processing as city-dwellers, meaning their worse experience also has the double kick of costing more.

“Edge centres,” as the facilities themselves are also called, change that by setting up closer to the regional and rural populations they serve, delivering cloud computing resources and cached content to users more efficiently.

“Right now, Australia is on the cusp of an edge infrastructure wave, and Edge Centres is building ahead of this generational spike in demand for IoT, edge computing, and cloud. Building ahead of this wave means that we have time to build and connect the necessary infrastructure so that these regional hubs that haven’t been connected previously can be ready when it hits,” Eaves said.

He noted a handful of companies are now racing to provide these services to the previously forgotten regional populations of Australia.

Edge Centres’ aim

Eaves is no stranger to data centre design and construction, having built centres in Australia and in the United Arab Emirates.

His newly minted company is specifically targeting internet service providers, retail service providers and managed service providers with services including cloud connect, dark fibre, and IP transit. These are delivered through data centre designs that are minimally dependent on utility power and have a carbon-negative footprint, the company says.

Its sites are “carrier-neutral,” it added, to encourage competition, enrich its ecosystem, and to drive down prices for the customer.

Over the next 18 months, Edge Centres plans to scale its business across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Japan, hoping to reach 20 sites by the end of 2022.

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