In Marseille, the explosion of data centers is debated

published on Tuesday, January 24, 2023 at 06:08

In a few years, the city of Marseille has become the seventh world “center” of the Internet, attracting world giants of “data centers”. But the future development of this digital fortress is today the subject of fierce debate.

Taking advantage of its geographical position on the shores of the Mediterranean, which has already given it the status of a major commercial port, France’s second city is at the crossroads of digital data flows in an increasingly connected world.

No fewer than 17 submarine cables land there today, lifting Marseille from 44th to 7th in the world in data capacity in less than 10 years, according to specialist firm Telegeography. And the city of Marseille aims to be the fifth soon, approaching the top three Frankfurt (Germany), London, Amsterdam (Netherlands).

As a result, data centers are being added there. Five have already been installed, including four from world leader Digital Realty (through its subsidiary Interxion). Their customers, such as video-on-demand platforms, are eager for the super-fast connections offered by the proximity of cables.

But these infrastructures are huge consumers of energy and square meters and the majority of the municipality of Marseille (left and environmentalist) shows its concerns.

“The market wants to move extremely fast, it is a sector with growth and double-digit margins”, analyzes Laurent Lhardit, socialist deputy near the mayor, delegate for the economy and digital, who counted “11 projects” for the city. “And new ones are coming.”

– Submarine base –

However, “we have a large deficit of economic land, arbitrations must be done”, the chosen one underlines. But data centers have financial means that “no one can fight against.” The result, “about fifty companies in the manufacturing sector” that want to set up or expand in Marseille, with “about 3,000 jobs” at risk, could not have done so, says the elected official, citing the case of this maintenance company in particular marine. , which is always looking for a solution.

Another point of concern, the gluttony of energy to power and refresh these behemoths: “Brings uncertainty to the electrification of ships in quays”, the city’s battle horse, especially for ferries and ships under repair, which are currently revving their engines. causing pollution, fears another deputy mayor, ecologist Sébastien Barles.

Taking a “slightly more radical” position, he requested, with environmentalist MEP David Cormand, a moratorium on the installation of new data centers, to reflect at the Community level on “eco-conditioning”, and even a tax.

The municipality does not go that far, but requests a “masterplan” from the metropolis of Aix-Marseille-Provence for future locations.

Fabrice Coquio, president of Digital Realty France, dismisses the concerns. Earth? “We have not consumed a single square meter, instead we have rehabilitated a place that has not been used for 75 years,” he says, referring to the former German submarine base, where one of their data centers is located, and two others are too. at the port.

On the energy side, he points to their cooling by recovering runoff water from a former coal mine.

– “No reflection on sobriety” –

And to tout the creation of “almost 500 jobs,” including 85 direct. Without mentioning what is expected from his “clients”, whose investments he estimates at two billion euros, in addition to the 500 million invested by Digital Realty.

For Mr. Coquio, the continuation of the development of the center of Marseille is clear: “The increase in data is +140% per year, we still need to organize a little. (…) But if at some point we say to ourselves that, for lack of vision, it is better to invest in Barcelona, ​​we will do it. It would be a shame for France.”

Sébastien Barles, he deplores this “unbridled expansion of the digital”: “There is no reflection on prudence. It is up to us to think about it”.

In 2019, “nearly 4% of global carbon emissions were due to the production and use of digital,” compared with 2% for civil air traffic, according to the think tank Shift Project.

“It is the attractiveness of the territory that is put at risk”, assures on the contrary Martine Vassal, president of the LR of the metropolis and unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Marseille in 2020. For her, by developing the center “we will be able to bring the groups , company headquarters.

Aware of the future of the file, the state services have already organized several meetings with different actors. A new one is expected in the coming months.

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