Despite challenges from inflation and power supply constraints, senior leaders from ESR, Nuveen, EdgeConnex and JLL said on Tuesday that strong demand from data centre users will continue to support digital infrastructure investments in Japan and Korea.
“There is much more online action going on, much more requirements for more data centre assets and we’re not seeing that slowing down,” ESR chief executive officer for data centres Diarmid Massey said in a panel discussion during Mingtiandi’s APAC Data Centre Forum 2022.
With ESR having earlier this month announced its first data centre project in Korea after previously unveiling a pair of Japan developments, Massey added that, “We’re amazed by the amount of opportunities and the amount of business that we’re seeing in those markets, but there’s still room for growth.”
Speaking at the same event – which was sponsored by Yardi – Sam Lee, managing director for market and commercial development with data centre operator EdgeConneX said the two Asian powerhouses are the EQT-backed firm’s top priorities among APAC locations, given growing demand from their burgeoning e-commerce, cloud computing and gaming sectors.
Local Partnership Is Key
“Japan and Korea have been two of the most highly connected countries in the world in terms of internet penetration,” Lee said. “If you look at the fundamentals, we still believe that there’s a long runway for demand happening.”
The veteran data centre executive said that, within the two countries, demand is still heavily concentrated in the largest metropolitan areas, including Seoul in Korea as well as Tokyo and Osaka in Japan, where the facilities can benefit from proximity to end-users.
Despite being Asia’s second-largest economy, with a well-developed tech sector, Japan remains heavily undersupplied according to Bob Tan, executive director with the data centre practice group from JLL’s capital markets team.
Tan said Japan’s current rack capacity of 900 megawatts, excluding projects under development, translates to eight to nine megawatts per million population or less than a third of the 28-30 megawatts per million in Australia.
The veteran advisor said that in both Japan and Korea, players with strong track records have the upper hand in developing new projects, particularly in securing the services of top contractors, and advised that, for new market entrants, forging partnerships with local firms is crucial.
“If you have a presence in the market already, it will certainly make the task a lot easier but if you’re fresh to the market, then you will have to find either a land owner or a local partner,” he said. “I think that’s going to be quite key going forward.”
Massey said relationships forged from decades of developing industrial projects in North Asia provide ESR with the ability to achieve set price construction contracts for projects and secure power capacity. In February, ESR completed the paperwork for a development project in Korea, including setting pricing for all materials and securing power supply for when the facility goes online in 2024, Massey explained, while some competing projects may have to wait until 2026 or later to gain access to necessary electrical connections.
Jing Zhou, senior director for alternative and strategic transactions at Nuveen, said the US investment firm is also prioritising Japan and Korea as its seeks to expand its APAC data centre portfolio after the firm acquired its first facility in Hong Kong during April.
“We still may have the appetite and like to do more, and hence with Korea and Japan, we remain very hopeful to identify the right opportunities to put our money in the right projects and to support sustainable development data centre projects,” Zhou said in the forum.
While the Hong Kong acquisition was a stabilised property acquired on behalf of Nuveen’s Asia Pacific Cities Fund, Zhou said that, in addition to acquiring completed assets, the US investment firm is also looking at development projects which can be taken on via its value-add and opportunistic strategies.
In addition to Japan, Korea and Australia, Zhou said Nuveen is also looking at data centre opportunities in Singapore and Australia.
Challenges To Growth
While growth opportunities remain attractive, the panellists sounded the alarm on slowing market activity as rising interest rates and currency depreciation in Japan and Korea have elevated construction costs.
After notching a combined $891 million in deals in 2021, and around the same level in 2020, according to MSCI, transactions of income-earning data centre assets in Japan and Korea slowed to less than $200 million in the first eight months of this year.
Nuveen’s Zhou noted that higher interest rates and rising inflation have made investors and data centre operators more cautious.
The need to ensure that data centres operate sustainably is also a challenge for new projects, particularly in Japan, where much of the electricity is generated from fossil fuels, as the country has scaled back use of nuclear power.
“We’ve recognized the shortage of green energy in Japan and as a business, we are investing in alternative energy supply on our own bat,” said ESR’s Massey. “If we don’t get the green energy production side of the equation sorted out, it will start to impact hyperscale in Japan.”
Sustainability Up Next
Rounding out Mingtiandi’s APAC Data Centre Forum 2022 is a panel discussion on Thursday, 22 September dedicated to sustainable data centre innovation, where a set of expert panellists will tackle the challenges faced by investors and operators in seeking to balance data centre investments against commitments to carbon neutrality and energy efficiency.
In Thursday’s show, Mingtiandi will welcome Joe Gooi, chief executive of SC Capital Partners’ SC Zeus Data Centers; Josephine Yip, senior director for investments and asset management for Asia Pacific at Ivanhoe Cambridge; Tan Bee Lay, chief sustainability officer with fractional investment platform SDAX; and Alton Wong, an executive director with Cushman & Wakefield who is head of advisory services and co-head of sustainability services for the firm’s Greater China division.