Data Centers and the Quebec’s “green” power grid


“Maintenant ou jamais! Maître chez nous.”
(Now or never! Master in our own house.)
– 1962 Quebec Liberal Party campaign slogan

It’s no secret that Quebec is home to among the lowest hydro rates in North America, making it an attractive destination for businesses in power-hungry industries. But the province’s network of hydro-electric dams is not just a story about cheap electricity. It is also the story of the most transformational period in Quebec history.

When Premier Jean Lesage fought and won the pivotal 1962 election on a radical program of nationalizing the province’s hydro companies, his objective was twofold; guarantee a stable source of sustainable electricity, and reassert francophones as maîtres chez nous, masters in our own house.

Five decades later, one of the results of this legacy is the very existence of ROOT Data Center.

Let me back up.

From the beginning, the guiding principle of ROOT has been less power to waste, more power to you. To realize our vision of a data center that beats the price point and service levels of any competitor while remaining socially responsible, we needed a home where electricity was cheap, clean and abundant.

Where could we realize this vision? The answer was always Montreal. And so ROOT was born.

The Green Power Grid

The elevator pitch for doing business in Quebec is simple; invest here and enjoy the fruits of our electricity system, otherwise known as the green grid.

The backbone of the grid is a series of dams and reservoirs that are among the biggest in the world. The aptly named La Grande dam had one visitor calling for it to be recognized as the eighth modern wonder of the world. And for good reason. These awe-inspiring structures serve as a source of clean, cheap power for not just Quebec but Ontario, New Brunswick, New York and much of the Northeastern United States.

How clean? Hydro-electricity emits just one per cent as much greenhouse gas emissions as coal fired power plants.

Montreal boasts the cheapest electricity rates for large energy consumers in eastern North America, and less than half the price of neighbouring Toronto. It’s this competitive advantage that has for decades lured the energy-intensive aluminium industry to la belle province, and today attracts data centers.

It’s all about the [triple] bottom line

In 2014, American DCs consumed 70 billion kWh, putting them in the crosshairs of environmental groups who labelled data centers “the new polluters.”

While the industry has made tremendous strides to reduce energy consumption as its scaled, more must be done. But at what cost? Conventional wisdom has long been that any efforts to improve environmental performance means a corresponding financial sacrifice. At ROOT, it’s fair to say that we don’t hold conventional wisdom in high regard.

In fact, by passing on energy efficiency savings to customers, we succeed because we are green – not in spite of it. Ultimately, each step we make towards greater sustainability has seen equivalent gains in performance and pricing for our customers. With KyotoCooling technology, we are able to operate on free cooling for almost 98 per cent of the year. When prospective customers ask how we manage price points 30-70 per cent lower than the competition, it’s our investments in sustainability that stand out.

Making this all possible is the Green Power Grid.

Though he was a visionary, even Lesage could not have foreseen that generations later, his vision for Hydro-Quebec would be the pump that primes the data center industry – the very lifeblood of the digital economy.