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Yoon unveils W360b project to build massive data center cluster in Gangwon

Freshwater behind dam to be used to keep data centers cool

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : March 11, 2024 - 15:15

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President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for a 220-megawatt cluster of data centers in Chuncheon, Gangwon State President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for a 220-megawatt cluster of data centers in Chuncheon, Gangwon State

President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday unveiled a project worth 360 billion won ($274 million) to build a cluster of data centers in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, and set up a mechanism to use freshwater from behind the dam for cooling.

By 2027, the cluster that comprises seven data centers with a combined peak power use reaching 220 megawatts, smart farm facilities and the cooling mechanism using water behind Soyang Multipurpose Dam in Chuncheon is to complete construction, according to Yoon. The project is projected to create 7,300 jobs over the next 30 years with 2.46 trillion won of potential economic output.

"The era of artificial intelligence and digital technology has dawned, turning data (communication and storage) into a key industry that generates wealth," Yoon said at the 19th policy debate held in Chuncheon before the groundbreaking ceremony.

"Cold water deep in a reservoir behind Soyang Dam is by far the greatest resource for a cooling mechanism, making (Chuncheon) the optimal place to house data centers."

The intention of the new industrial cluster sprawling across 816,000 square meters of land is for the newly built internet infrastructure facilities that are about 5 kilometers from the Soyang Dam to use 241,000 cubic meters of water behind the dam -- less than 1 percent of the dam's capacity -- for cooling, and for the heated water byproduct to be used as a resource for farming.

The scheme could reduce energy consumption for the new data centers in the area by 64 percent, the government estimates. The data centers typically use 40 percent of their energy consumption for cooling.

The country is seeing growing momentum for more data centers to be built outside the Greater Seoul area, as their high energy consumption often sparks concerns about power supply stability in the metropolitan area that is densely populated, state-run K-Water Chief Executive Officer Yun Seog-dae said during the ceremony, which Yoon also attended.

The new infrastructure plan will lay the groundwork for Gangwon Province's bid to create 30,000 digital industry-related jobs and house 3,000 such companies, in line with Yoon's presidential campaign pledge. Chuncheon already houses data centers of South Korean technology firms such as Naver, Samsung SDS and Douzone Bizon.

Gangwon Province gained special status in June 2023, about a year after Yoon took office, and the local government, calling itself Gangwon State, has since been given greater autonomy in decision-making processes.

Soyang River Dam (K-Water) Soyang River Dam (K-Water)

Yoon has so far held 19 policy debate sessions, and Monday's event was the first in Gangwon Province. Of the 18 prior occasions, 12 were held in Greater Seoul, which includes Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, four were in the southeastern region of South Korea -- considered a stronghold for the conservative bloc -- and two were in the middle of the Korean Peninsula.

Yoon has yet to organize a debate session in the country's southwestern region, long considered a stronghold for the liberal opposition bloc. But the presidential office has been facing calls to come to the area of the Jeolla provinces, as Gwangju Mayor Kang Gi-jung asked Yoon to "look into the challenges that the industry in this region is facing."

The events were initially lauded as aimed at replacing the New Year's briefing, laden with formality. The presidential office, however, now faces criticism as the opposition bloc argues the events constitute a series of de facto "electoral interventions."

The presidential office denied that it was intervening in the April general election, saying it has been handling matters related to ordinary people's livelihoods.

As of late February, Yoon was scheduled to hold at least 22 such debate sessions, according to Sung Tae-yoon, presidential chief of staff for policy, in a briefing with reporters.