$1.1 Million Awarded to Joint Study on Impacts of Data Centers in Norway’s Clean Energy Transition

Funding supports research collaboration between NTNU Social Research and Boston University

July 13, 2023 – As Norway strives to position itself as a hub for global digital infrastructure—building data centers for cloud storage and processing—questions about the benefits and tradeoffs of digitalization are being brought to the forefront of its sustainability policy.

Now, through a government-backed initiative, the Research Council of Norway has awarded more than $1.1 million in funding to examine the role of digital transformation in Norway’s shift to clean energy, with a focus on its growing data center industry. The study will evaluate the often-overlooked socioenvironmental impacts involved, such as energy competition, to inform public-sector policy decisions. Called the “Limits to Digitalization (L2D),” this effort is jointly led by researchers at Boston University and NTNU Social Research (NSR), in partnership with the Norwegian University of Science & Technology. Heading up the research team as Principal Investigator is Dr. Mads Dahl Gjefsen, Senior Researcher, Studio Apertura, NSR. Collaborators from Boston University include Dr. Ayse Coskun, professor, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Director of the Center for Information & Systems Engineering, and core faculty of the Institute for Global Sustainability (IGS); and Dr. Benjamin Sovacool, Director, IGS, and professor, Department of Earth & Environment.

“We’re eager to explore the socio-environmental limits to digitalization through our international collaboration, with the goal of striking the right balance between economic expansion around new data center industries and sustainable growth opportunities,” said Dr. Coskun.

The Boston University team will investigate some of the whole-systems justice issues around data center development. It will also explore harnessing data centers as resources in diverse energy markets, based on Norway’s and comparable countries’ data centers, and design optimization models to enable efficient and sustainable operation of data centers.

The study will create a conceptual framework for digitalization that aims to:

  • Investigate the social and distributional effects from energy transition policies, using a whole-systems justice viewpoint to explore who benefits
  • Advocate for an equitable and urgent transition through bold civic and policy impact measures
  • Develop innovative tools for energy and data center governance to support decision-makers in the Norwegian energy sector

The catalyst for this research partnership was Boston University’s two-year study “Exploring Sustainability via Data Center-Grid Integration Across Different Geographies” (2021–2023), a project jointly sponsored by IGS and the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering. The research team led by Dr. Coskun included the Hariri Institute’s Director, Yannis Paschalidis, and IGS affiliated faculty Richard Stuebi, a lecturer at the Questrom School of Business. L2D will partly expand on this earlier work to further understand the potential for data centers to efficiently regulate power consumption and reduce energy costs.

About the Boston University Institute for Global Sustainability
The Boston University Institute for Global Sustainability (IGS) pioneers research to advance a sustainable and equitable future, convening faculty across the university’s diverse schools and colleges. Our focus on planetary and environmental health, climate governance, and energy systems is grounded in equity and justice, robust data science, and real-world impact. To learn more, visit bu.edu/igs.