Cambridge, much like its namesake city in Massachusetts, has long been at the forefront of innovation. From the reflecting telescope to the rules of soccer, webcams to IVF. The university counts Newton, Hawking, Keynes and Darwin, amongst its illustrious alumni. So it’s little surprise that as the city itself cements a reputation as a science hub, it has dipped into green data centers, leading the way in the higher education center. The move, which was supportive of a burgeoning digital economy, consolidated an existing (disparate) array of facilities drawing on state-of-the-art technology.
The data center is now operational and draws on a ‘chilled water’ hybrid system, enabling it to reduce its emissions by 10% relative to baseline. Located on a site in West Cambridge it represented a step toward ameliorating a situation which had been altogether unsatisfactory for both the university and the environment. Spread over 2,200 sq.m., it provided vital infrastructure for the University Information Services (UIS) together with the High Performing Computer Service (HPCS) and the administrative needs of Cambridge Assessment which is responsible for the administration of examination boards operating under this banner. Apart from being a boon for the University’s ability to compete in an increasingly competitive tertiary education landscape, it also has proven catalytic to the promotion of the broader sector.
The increased use of artificial intelligence and the seemingly irreversible movement toward a more interconnected (and data-driven) world, has increased investment in this sector. An array of pension and life funds increasingly allocate money, favoring projects in close proximity of major urban hubs. The appeal derives as much from this being a widely accepted macro trend, as the impeccable covenant strengths of operators, especially those in big tech. This has focused attention on viable sites throughout London and the southeast. A project long in gestation but worthy of analysis is Camro Data Campus.
Located to the West of Ely, in striking distance of Cambridge (just off the A142), it represents a consented 700,000 sq.ft. scheme on a 40 acre site. With possible routing to London- but also to Europe- reserved matters have been discharged on Phase 1 and a further 40 acres of expansion space identified. It benefits from plentiful provision by way of 6MVA available on site, fed mainly by on-grid facilities. Doubtless requiring very significant risk capital, it appears (at least outwardly) to be an attractive site on cost competitive land. The gap between credible idea and physical delivery, though, is always easier said than done.
Another project of note is Kao Data’s campus in Harlow, less than 20 miles from Central London within the ‘UK Innovation Corridor’ which includes both Cambridge and Stansted. Investors include Legal and General and Goldacre, a major family office. When completed, this 15 acre facility will have had a gross cost in excess of £230m, and will support an ITE load cover of over 40MW across 15,000 sq.ft. of technical space. Unlike many existing facilities elsewhere in the world, Kao will be powered by 100% renewable energy. Partners range from Infrastructure Masons to EU Networks, One Nucleus to Cambridge Wireless.
Part of the reason for excitement in this particular project derives from the credibility of the developer. For the uninitiated, some of its credentials are a bit of an alphabet soup. Unfamiliar acronyms, from ISO to TCO to SLA. What we do know though, is it has the highest available security practices and procedures, a dedicated on-site substation and hyper scale levels of efficiency. These designations are underpinned by accreditations from third party bodies like BREEAM, and supported by an award-winning corporate and social responsibility (CSR) strategy. In short, it looks primed, pumped and provisioned for full operation in the coming years, with Cambridge set to benefit.
Such developments in Cambridge (and its strategic satellites) are at the forefront of reconciling our insatiable desire for technology with our imperative to address climate change. Just as Cambridge University was at the vanguard of data center innovation for the education sector, these new schemes will provide a blueprint for a more equitable and sustainable economic recovery post COVID. Governments the world over are notorious for platitudes and empty sloganeering. The Johnson government’s exhortation to ‘Build Back Better’ neatly fits into this category. It’s questionable motives, though, should not detract from the need of all businesses to move to more responsible practices and innovate for the future. With the endless proliferation of high-impact, tech enabled businesses coming out of Cambridge, it seems as good a place as any to lead in this vital sector of the real estate industry.