Tackling Africa’s data centre market

07 May 2024

Africa's data centre segment is booming as demand explodes across the continent. Sibongile Thobakgale, Project Sales Manager (Data Centre) for Southern Africa at Aggreko, outlines what's hot and what's not.

Afica is growing in the data centre space. In one of the meetings I attended, it was dliscussed that the big data centre players want ito be a 1GW industry.

However, data centres are power hungry; it takes a lot of energy to keep the equipment cool, especially in Africa. It is public knowledge that reliable power is a challenge in most African countries. In South Africa, for example, Eskom is experiencing infrastructure challenges causing loadshedding or load curtailment. Challenges like these are going to hinder the growth in the African data centre market, especially with the booming population growth.

Today, much of Africa's data is stored in Europe, but now the continent's data regulators reassessing regulations, especially when it comes to storing sensitive information. This is going to be another challenge for the industry. In terms of opportunities, though, it is projected that there will be 525 million people accessing the internet from Africa. It's a fast-growing market, and with everything being done online nowadays, this is a great opportunity as demand for digital
infrastructure continues to grow.

Supporting Africa's data centres
Some of the keys where Aggreko can add value for Africa's data centre space are:

1. Grid, bridging and commissioning power generation with battery storage solutions 80% of sites were dismissed due to no mains or power being available significant delays in getting it.

2. Construction phases - supply of temporary greener power CO2 emissions, reducing heating, cooling, and dehumidification packages to enable or speed up the construction process.

3. Commissioning and IST loadbank and heat-load solutions for testing the mechanical and electrical infrastructure before the data halls go live.

4. Upgrades and pre-planned maintenance - temporary UPS, transformers, switchgear, generators, and chillers whilst upgrades or maintenance are carried out on existing systems.

5. Emergencies and contingency quick deployment planning of power and cooling solutions should a failure occur with the building infrastructure.

For some of our hyperscaler customers, when they go into maintenance, they require us to rent them a generator for the duration, because as we know, data centres need power. In case of emergency, say if a piece of equipment fails and there are no immediately available spares, we can rapidly build a small power plant for whatever the client's MW requirements are.

Shaping the market
Across the continent, we are seeing increased adoption of high fibre. The compact cable construction plays a different role in Africa, and communication services providers are rethinking their fibre packages. Then, of course, there is the focus on ESG everybody's going green. We know that renewable energy is challenging in Africa, and in many other geographies, but despite this, utilities such as Eskom are investing to build renewables.

Regionally speaking, there are five countries in Africa that are going to be vibrant for the next two years. South Africa will lead the pack, particularly as the only country that has established distinct two cloud regions. Johannesburg and Cape Town. This will be followed by Nigeria, which has the highest population in Africa, which of course comes with high data demands - the country has recently installed a lot of edge data centres. In Kenya, there are a lot of activities happening right now - the same is true for Egypt and Morocco.

When we look at the growth trends in South Africa, there is 408MW of capacity, but just 106MW of live capacity. Some are under construction, and some are new builds that are envisioned in the next two years. That's a 41% variation. Similarly, Nigeria, has 100MW of total capacity, but only 21MW of live capacity.

In one of the Data Centre Platforms, I attended the following research showed the growth trends between South Africa and Nigeria. South Africa has an estimated 408 MW of data centre capacity, with just 106MW being live capacity. Some are under construction, and some are new builds envisioned in the next two years. That's a 41% variation. Similarly, Nigeria has approximately 100MW of total data centre capacity, but only 21MW of live capacity.

South Africa has shown a lot of growth with new projects in the pipeline. The Likes of Teraco's JB5, Vantage JNB2, NTT Dimension Data, MTN and Open Access Data Centre. There are other expansion projects from Hyperscallers as well. It is a good time to be in Africa's bustling data centre market.