To fully understand the potential of DRE, specifically data centres, energy centres and smart blocks, we first need to acknowledge a shift in value, that both capital investment and revenues for a data centre can be up to fivefold the usual rates associated with corporate office space construction and rental. This alone places these facilities as a key player in the real estate market, a factor which cannot be overlooked. In 2013 a total supply of 34,000sqm of technical space (data) in London was equivalent to the 2007 peak prior to the financial crisis. As the trend increases we can foresee a scenario where such developments will increasingly lead corporate investment in the built environment, and in turn demand change from a regulatory framework incessantly catching up with a fast market trajectory. Capital-intensive operations linked to the development of tech-heavy projects generate more money for national and local governments than labour intensive operations such as call centres or the general service industry. Once local planning authorities switch onto this phenomenon rather than attempt to contain it and re-focus their policies from mere job headcount to the creation of opportunities for highly skilled employment, we may see a further increase in technology-led development across urban and peripheral environments wherein data centres become a catalyst for new urban relationships. This is a challenge not only for the AECO industry but also government and corporations as we escalate from edge to hyperscale facilities. Considering supercomputer cooling trends it is likely the ambient temperature within data centres will rise beyond
30 degrees centigrade pointing to increased automisation without increasing PUE as exemplified by our current design for a tall data centre in Hong Kong where the likelihood of cooling chips at source within performance envelopes developed from bio-mimicry will utilise composite materials to counterbalance an increase in skeletal strength. In this scenario we envisage robotically maintained data centres running hotter.
With fibre services now moving from 10Gbps to 100Gbps uninterrupted power supply remains crucial to keeping the world online.
Whether in a suburbanlocation, self reliant on its off-grid energy production and data storage (Interxion’s Campus, Frankfurt), an urban development recovering energy from a data furnace (Telehouse West, London) or a research campus powered by a High Performance Computing facility (MareNostrum,Barcelona) what is at stake is the future of our productive landscapes determined by big capital investments, algorithms and efficiencies contributing to the progressive development of a new European industrial culture. What is clear however is that non fossil fuel sources of generating electricity such as wind wave and solar power which have enjoyed significant subsidy will not generate sufficient megawatts to prevent downtime. Nuclear fission can provide significant quantities of carbon free power particularly Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) which have the potential to provide efficient, rapid deployment of electrical power where it is required.
Energy from SMRs
In order to continue and grow the deployment of nuclear power a complete rethinking of the design, construction, licensing and operation is necessary, capable of delivering a modern deployable fully scalable Modular Urban Nuclear Reactor. To do this several engineering and architectural challenges have to be addressed to gain regulatory approval and public acceptance. How Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are designed will be the key determinant in changing perception of what is safe energy. The impact of such a breakthrough in gaining public acceptance will provide the platform for co-locating resilient power facilities with the new urban mix of real estate where innovation, advanced manufacturing, research and new forms of commerce increasingly take place. It will locate sentient power blocks in urban areas as opposed to sensitive rural locations. Importantly it will enable advances in technological and material science to be fully exploited in design and construction.
Research within MIT, FMAC and other bodies indicates that technical solutions exist, based for example on Molten Salt or Liquid Metal fuel reactors, which can produce 50-100MW of electrical energy in a compact footprint, with intrinsic safety and could provide the base for a deployable Modular Urban Reactor, without the technical and planning constraints associated with size and complexity of existing plants. Currently most commercial ventures investigating SMRs are focused on converting existing technology from maritime use or designing multiple reactor facilities based on existing low power density concepts. The consequence of this technology driven approach is likely to create installations which are rural/coastal located and encounter the same time, cost, environmental and planning approval challenges of large scale plants. What is novel in the MUR approach is to start from a market perspective, i.e. where is demand located? what advantage can be gained from proximity and automation? what is the optimum size for manufacture and operation? How can positive public perception be achieved? This approach aligns with the urbanization of innovation leading to intensification of real estate, mixing industrial, office, research, ultilities and lifestyle in close proximity, generating smart approaches to organizing and managing cities. The Modular Urban Nuclear Reactor introduces a number of key novel solutions:
- Fully autonomous remotely controlled nuclear power plant
- Factory built, additive manufacturing based sealed
- Fully sealed and autonomous post design base accident
- Full-envelope testing based licensing
The completely novel concept introduced in 4, is key to fast deployment and continuous improvement, and greatly supports the aspect of public acceptance. Three dimensional design and simulation methods, coupled to innovative materials will be key in addressing core design with low-enrichment fuel, particularly challenging for a small footprint reactor. Autonomous operation, will introduce new challenges, but also great opportunities. Architecturally defining building configurations which accommodate human, automated and technological developments allied with an ultra lightweight structure (by comparison) to optimize form, cost and construction as well as facilitate advocacy will be paramount.