Some of the country's largest colleges face fines of tens of thousands of pounds each year unless they can reduce their energy consumption under the government's programme for reducing carbon emissions. But Hertford Regional College believes it may have an answer - and a revenue stream that will bring it millions of pounds annually - in Iceland.
The college has moved most of its computer servers - about 160 of them - to the Thor Data Center, just outside Reykjavik. After suffering badly in the financial crisis of 2007, Iceland has decided that its future prosperity lies in using its cheap, clean energy to power the world's servers.
Using electricity generated by heat from the earth's core, and with no need for air conditioning in the chilly atmosphere, the data centre has saved Hertford Regional College 40 per cent on its energy bills and reduced emissions by 750 tonnes of carbon, about a fifth of the college's total.
The college is marketing the data centre outsourcing to other colleges and universities, under the banner of HRC Cube. Thor Data Center has enough space to accommodate the server needs of 200 colleges of Hertford's size, according to the college's chief technology officer Daniel Hidlebaugh.
"We were spending around pound;160,000 a year to run our IT department. We've been able to reduce that by about pound;70,000," Dr Hidlebaugh said. "Moreover, Iceland has frozen its energy costs for the next 10 years, whereas Britain has seen them rise between 10 and 15 per cent."
Moving servers abroad need not slow the system down, Dr Hidlebaugh said. Using Iceland's good network connections and the UK's academic network, called Janet, the college gets a response time of just 30 milliseconds, fast enough to run applications in the cloud. "It's just like having it at your back door," Dr Hidlebaugh said. "In some cases, it's faster going to Iceland than into the city here."
By selling the service on to other colleges and universities, Hertford expects to eventually make "millions" in fees, while its customers save on energy bills. "We are all committed to raising the quality of education for our students. Ideas like this can shift resources from the back room to the teaching side," said college principal Andy Forbes.
The idea is likely to particularly interest colleges that are caught in the government's Carbon Reduction Commitment, affecting institutions that use six million watts of electricity a year. A league table measuring how prepared institutions were for reducing carbon emissions found three colleges at the bottom, with a "zero" rating for early action: Cornwall College, Doncaster College and Exeter College.
The best prepared, according to the table, was Warwickshire College. Despite introducing green measures ranging from biomass boilers to solar panels, it has energy requirements that put it just above the threshold. Chris Paget, executive director of the college, said that the Carbon Reduction Commitment forced the college to pay more than pound;70,000 a year, based on the 5,964 tonnes of carbon it produces. "It's basically a tax," he said.
Reducing carbon emissions can bring the bill down, but the only way to avoid it altogether is to reduce energy requirements to below the threshold. Mr Paget said he expected that threshold to be progressively lowered, however, potentially bringing more colleges into the scheme.
He estimated that computer servers at the college were responsible for about 14 per cent of its electricity use, meaning a move to Iceland would save pound;10,000 in fines, as well as offering reduced energy bills. "It's a very interesting idea," Mr Paget said.
Original headline: Iceland offers a cool way to cut energy consumption