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New publication: Data-center infrastructure and energy gentrification

Datacenter. Photo.

Which societal functions should be prioritized when the electricity grid reaches its maximum capacity? This highly relevant question is asked by Frans Libertson, Doctoral Student at IIIEE, Julia Velkova, Assistant Professor at Linköping University, and Jenny Palm, Professor at IIIEE, in a newly published policy paper in Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy.

Due it its very favorable conditions, Sweden has become a hot spot for building data centers, and the country has attracted a vast array of tech companies. Concurrently, certain regions in Sweden have during recent years experienced a lack of grid capacity, which in combination with the arrival of data centers and energy-intense digital infrastructure have obstructed the operations of both domestic industries and public transport.

To understand the negotiations that arise from grid capacity limitations in relation to introducing energy-intense digital industries, the paper proposes energy gentrification as a perspective. Energy gentrification may occur when energy intense industries establish new facilities which affect the energy supply in the region to the extent that the operation of local businesses is significantly impeded or entirely liquidated. In its most extreme form, energy gentrification can also affect the energy supply of the communities located in the vicinity.

The perspective of energy gentrification highlights the significance of recognizing that data centers and other energy-intense industries do not only constitute opportunities. Furthermore, the perspective also accentuates the potential dangers of failing to recognize that energy also constitutes a societal resource, and like any other resource of the built environment, it is exposed to the risk of exploitation if left unprotected. Lastly, energy gentrification offers also a useful approach for inquiring into the ethical dimensions of energy policies and for highlighting the bureaucratic nature of energy policy decision-making.

The study was funded by the Kamprad Family Foundation and by ERA-Net/Energimyndigheten, and it is part of the research project CLUE, Concepts, planning, demonstration and replication of Local User-friendly Energy communities. 

The article is open to all and available here (new window).