Data center boom in the Rhine-Main area triggers mixed feelings

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Video conferences in the home office, watching series and computer games via the Internet: Also fueled by the corona pandemic, the demand for online services is increasing and with it the number of data centers in which companies can operate their servers. Frankfurt and the Rhine-Main area are the fastest growing location in Europe, says Ralph Hintemann from the Berlin Borderstep Institute for Innovation and Sustainability. Capacity growth was even stronger in 2021 than in 2020.

Enormous power requirements, immense waste heat and high space requirements with relatively little creation of jobs – in the affected communities, the settlement of data centers means not only welcome tax revenue but also problems.

Frankfurt wants to intervene soon, the planning department has drawn up a concept for this. Department spokesman Mark Gellert says a decision is expected from the Main metropolis magistrate at the beginning of 2022. The data centers are to be limited to certain commercial areas, among other things in order to prevent traditional industries or handicraft businesses from being crowded out. Specifications for energy efficiency and building design are also being considered, but the concrete procedure of the city has not yet been clarified.

To date, Frankfurt has around 60 company-independent data centers, and many more are planned. On the former Neckermann site in the east, an entire campus for data centers of the operator Interxion is to be built for around one billion euros. The US group Equinix has announced an investment of a similar amount. With DE-CIX, Magnet is one of the world’s largest internet nodes.

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People in the Frankfurt area also want to benefit from this neighborhood. In Hanau, for example, the former nuclear bunker in the Wolfgang district has given way to a new data center for internet giant Google. Computing infrastructure for the growing demand for cloud services is being built here on an area of ​​10,000 square meters – around 20 kilometers away from DE-CIX in Frankfurt.

Another, much larger data center is to be added on the site of the former Großauheim barracks in Hanau. In the final stage, its power consumption corresponds to twice the annual consumption of the entire city of Hanau. The barracks area is to be converted into a commercial center for this purpose. Four combined heat and power plants for district heating, a substation and a photovoltaic system are planned on the site with a total area of ​​38 hectares, the electricity generation of which will flow into the data center.

Both areas could not have been used for other projects such as residential development, says Hanau’s business developer Erika Schulte. Logisticians were also interested in the former barracks site – but that would not have been reasonable for the residents given the high level of noise and traffic. However, the city did not want to leave the sealed site lying fallow. “That’s also part of sustainability,” says Schulte. In addition, the project is to be designed according to the criteria of the “Blue Angel”, the aim of which is the environmentally friendly operation of data centers.

When deciding on the settlements, new companies in the area were also taken into account in addition to the trade tax revenue. IT companies, financial service providers and start-ups that need high computing power or service providers such as security and janitorial services could be considered, says Schulte. What speaks in favor of data centers is that it is an export-independent, future-oriented industry that is important for public services.


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