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Arms manufacturer claims TikTok is impacting its production capability

A self-propelled artillery vehicle fires on the frontline, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Libkos)
A self-propelled artillery vehicle fires on the frontline, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Libkos)
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An ammunition factory located in Norway claims that it is unable to continue planned expansions due to a data center consuming all additional power in the region.

The factory — the largest run by Nammo, which is co-owned by the Norwegian government and a Finnish state-controlled defense company — sought to increase its output of artillery rounds.

According to Nammo CEO Morten Brandtzæg, the demand for such ammunition is up 15 times these days, largely as a result of Russia’s continued war in Ukraine.

The chief executive expanded on the state of the market via Ukraine, telling the Financial Times that the invaded nation is firing about 6,000 rounds of artillery per day — which is about as many rounds as a small European country might order for one year — and wants to have ten-fold the munitions budget per day.

However, the company’s intention to push for an increase in space and production capability at its main plant in Raufoss, Norway has been hindered due to what they claim is the ever-increasing power usage by a nearby data center.

The center’s main client? TikTok.

The video-sharing app’s base of an estimated 1 billion monthly active users needs a lot of energy to power the servers that house the data for the countless and uncountable millions of videos that are scrolled through every second. This is such a pressing issue that in Norway alone, the Chinese-owned social media platform plans on building three more data centers at a campus in the Scandinavian country’s Hamar region — which is only about 16 miles east of the Nammo factory — over the next two years with an option to construct two more by the end of 2025.

Green Mountain, the Norwegian data company center building and running the centers, said in a press release from March 8 that each center will have a capacity of 30 megawatts — the capability to provide power to 35,000 individuals’ homes over the course of the year. In other words, each of these new buildings consumes a similar amount of energy as 24,000 households each year.

Other European nations’ own findings back these numbers up. A 2019 report by EirGrid, Ireland’s electrical grid operator, found similar numbers, saying that “they need a lot of power” and as a result can require “the same amount of energy as a large town."

While TikTok is looking for its own major expansion, Brandtzæg argued that the European ammunition industry needs to make around $2 billion in investments in order to keep up with continued demand from the conflict in Ukraine.

“We see an extraordinary demand for our products which we have never seen before in our history,” he told the FT.

He sees that necessary industry growth as now threatened by the energy needs of the video platform, or as he said, “We are concerned because we see our future growth is challenged by the storage of cat videos.

Brandtzæg would also not rule out the coincidence of the Chinese-owned company setting up shop nearby as an intentional move as the country more closely allies with the nation on the receiving end of Nammo’s shells — Russia — to stifle the Ukrainian war effort.

“I will not rule out that it’s not by pure coincidence that this activity is close to a defense company,” he said. “I can’t rule it out.”

Elvia, the local energy company that manages the power supply around the Nammo factory and the TikTok-contracted data center, confirmed to the FT the network had no spare capacity after allocating the requested power to the center — which it does on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The company further said that if the arms manufacturer wants and needs higher capacity, it will require adjustments to the energy grid.

“If Nammo orders capacity, depending on how much it needs, it will take time before there is available capacity as the transmission network needs to be strengthened,” Elvia said.

Scandinavian countries like Norway have been prime spots for data centers as global needs have boomed over the 21st century. The cost of electricity in the region has been historically low and the availability high, especially as the area continues to invest heavily in renewable and clean energy. The climate also makes it attractive to house data centers, as the cold cuts down on cooling costs.

TikTok and other major tech giants — especially ones who traffic in viral web or social media products — are already facing closer scrutiny in Europe for their constantly growing demands on local power grids and that impact on everyone but them. In July 2022, the FT found that the electricity use from large companies like Microsoft, Amazon, LG and Huawei was making it increasingly difficult to construct new homes in London. In fact, the report estimated that this strangulation of the power grid could lead to a decade-plus-long building ban in England’s capital in the near-distant future.

Similarly, lawmakers in parts of the U.S. have been considering the impact of energy needs from viral-driven web products like social media platforms and cryptocurrency on local and state power needs.

The Texas Senate took up a piece of legislation that would seek to place new restrictions on Bitcoin miners in the state. Currently, the company that operates the Texas power grid — and therefore around 90% of energy in the Longhorn State — pays large “mining” operations to curtail their activity when the state is short on power.

The bill would ban that arrangement. Other electricity providers in Texas are calling for such facilities — not necessarily Bitcoin miners only but such large consumers — to have to power down in shortages or other emergencies to insure adequate power supplies to residents.

Other communities in the U.S. have a different bone to pick with data centers: an aquatic one.

As municipalities across the drought-stricken country try to draw tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft to build these power guzzlers in their areas, bringing in new jobs and other opportunities, some are protesting the move as the data centers also consume massive amounts of water to facilitate cooling for the housed servers.

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These data debates may bring about conflict that could send the cloud crashing back down to Earth.

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