Protecting data centres from Nordic humidity levels

Protecting data centres from Nordic humidity levels

Nick Osborne, Data Centre Manager – Northern Europe at Aggreko, tells us why humidity could cause potential issues for operators looking to build data centres in the Nordic region, and offers some solutions to controlling the humidity levels in a data centre.

Combatting warm weather is not a challenge synonymous with the Nordics. Usually known for its cold climate, the temperature – alongside access to renewable power – is often one of the many selling points which has made the region an increasingly popular option for data centre operators. However, with temperature patterns suggesting a warmer climate in coming years, there are new challenges facing operators looking to invest in the region, as Nick Osborne, Data Centre Manager – Northern Europe at Aggreko, explains.

Temperature trends

Globally, climate change continues to grab headlines. And while much of the focus in Europe has been in France, Germany and the UK – all of which have recently experienced record highs – the Nordics region is also starting to experience some of the effects.

The Nordics are unlikely to see thermometers reach the extremes seen across western Europe, yet there is no denying that the region is warming. Remote Norwegian territory Svalbard, for example, has seen dangerous landslides caused by heavy snowmelt and rainfall in recent years. A 2019 report commissioned by the Norwegian Environmental Agency suggested that annual mean air temperature in Svalbard could increase by as much as 10°C over the next century, indicating the issue could become more severe.

The impact is also being mirrored in Iceland. Back in 2014, the Okjokull Glacier was pronounced dead after its ice was no longer thick enough to move. Finland, meanwhile, is also anticipating rising temperatures, particularly in the northern regions, with heavy rainfall incidences expected to increase.

While the results will not immediately impact all data centres in the region, they do show potential issues for operators looking to build data centres in the region. Rising temperatures, coupled with volatile rain patterns, could see a new risk for the data centre sector: humidity.

Humidity is very prominent in the Nordics. According to Aggreko’s recent guide – The Hidden Cost of Humidity on Site – Helsinki exceeds 80% humidity, well over the comfortable relative humidity level. Stockholm and Oslo also have high average relative humidity rates, indicating a hidden challenge for data centres in this region.

Why is humidity a concern for data centres?

Before looking into the specific challenges surrounding humidity within the data centre market, it’s worth understanding the subject in more detail. Relative humidity is the percentage of moisture within an air particle. As the air gets warmer, its capacity to hold moisture grows, while lower temperature has the opposite effect.

A relative humidity level of above 60% deems a space to be uncomfortably wet, while anything below 20% is uncomfortably low. With relative humidity across some of the major regions in the Nordics often peaking above 80%, the relative humidity is too high and this could cause concerns for data centres – both in their construction and maintenance.

Understanding relative humidity is therefore an important consideration when deciding where to build a data centre. Ideally, construction managers should aim for a location with a relative humidity between 40% and 60%, as this would provide optimal conditions for both the building materials and occupants.

Choosing a location for a new data centre which falls within the recommended relative humidity percentage is ideal, but it is not always possible. As such, it is important to understand the challenges that rising humidity can cause while in the construction phase, as well as the subsequent solutions that can soften the impact.

The impact of humidity on data centres

The first major issue to consider is how humidity impacts critical electrical components. When a data centre is constructed, the electrical distribution system must be kept in an environment that is dry and within a certain temperature band. Failure to do so could void any warranties, adding significant cost to a job.

As moisture can find its way into the smallest areas and spaces of any component, it is imperative that the right building conditions are maintained throughout every stage of a data centre’s construction. Humidity fluctuations should also be avoided.

High relative humidity and moisture can also lead to metal corrosion, prolonged time for paintwork, adhesives and cement to dry or cure, all of which are costly examples of onsite damage. It can also impact the speed at which the building deteriorates. If a building is incorrectly sealed and dehumidified, it will be susceptible to future moisture-related issues. Anticipating and managing this damage is therefore crucial during the construction phase, and the good news is that it can be mitigated.

Overcoming humidity damage

Controlling moisture on a data centre site – both during and after the construction phase – is of great importance.

There are three stages to remove moisture. The first is to add heat into the space to excite the molecules of water within materials. Here, molecules are drawn into the expanded atmosphere and out of the building structure. Once this phase is complete, air must be circulated using fans to aid the removal of moisture and avoid leaving the air stagnant. Then, a dehumidifier should be used to remove the water molecules. If humidity levels are high, these steps become more important. Without the appropriate support or tools, data centres could be open to permanent damage and faulty equipment. It is recommended that project managers assess their options and seek consultation if they are concerned about how relative humidity might impact their site. Using hired dehumidifiers, from companies like Aggreko, ensures sites have the right equipment to control humidity levels, when they are required.

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