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Quinbrook hires Amazon renewables chief to lead data centre strategy – exclusive

Co-founder David Scaysbrook tells us how tech veteran John Lucas will help the manager provide carbon-free energy solutions for data centres.

Quinbrook has appointed John Lucas as its new senior director of data strategies. The role, a new addition, will oversee the firm’s specialisation towards solutions for carbon-free data centres.

His hiring is the latest to the investment team, after a string of senior appointments were made last September. Lucas joins the company after a career in both energy trading and energy procurement, his most recently held position being the head of renewables and energy procurement, Americas at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Lucas will oversee data service operations across the firm’s three geographies – Australia, the UK and the US.

His background in procurement was crucial in the decision to hire him. According to David Scaysbrook, co-founder of Quinbrook, the firm is looking to become “more specialised, more granular” in its offerings, with a big focus on data. Specifically, the manager is looking to become a solutions provider to data centres on finding suitable sites to set them up for an eventual net-zero future. In that sense, Lucas’ background at AWS gives him a customer’s perspective.

Scaysbrook explained Quinsbrook is transitioning to a specialised model because “we wanted to focus on customer segments of the data centre industry, acting as a solutions provider for them in effectively finding sites, which we do for renewables anyway”. He added the firm’s decision to enter into site finding was taken to differentiate it from other industry players that deliver purely on data centre capacity.

The new strategy was also chosen with an eye to its risk profile. As Scaysbrook sees it, the entire infrastructure space is focusing on decarbonisation and the energy transition, which is “inherently risky, as it is fundamentally disruptive”, making long-term investments in power markets difficult.

By contrast, data centres need long-term investments, operating on a 20- to 30-year time horizon and tapping into data and population growth trends. Since Quinbrook’s data-centre strategy focuses on building new decarbonisation infrastructure instead of replacing existing generation capacity, Scaysbrook points out it helps to mitigate some of the disruptive risk of the energy transition. That, in turn, makes these types of projects beneficial to the risk profile of Quinbrook’s portfolio.

Industrial partnerships

Quinbrook plans on implementing this new strategy mainly through industrial partnerships.

“Becoming highly specialised and experts in our partnerships with data centres equips Quinbrook well to become a great solutions provider for other industries as they start maturing,” Scaysbrook said. “Over time, I won’t say that we’ll only have a dedicated investment strategy for green data centres, though they are big enough and varied enough for that. But certainly, it would be more specialised, industrially focused funds.

“Quinbrook is not the only party doing [industrial partnerships], but I think going forward, in an infrastructure investing sense, we’re going to see more of these. This is really the start of a new model.”

The first partnership has already been established through the joint venture Quinbrook launched with Birch Infrastructure in 2020 – Project Rowan – which was financed by Quinbrook’s Net Zero Power fund. For the project, Quinbrook will combine its expertise in renewables with Rowan’s expertise in data centre site finding to develop strategically located data centres across the US powered by renewables.

Scaysbrook specified, however, that Quinbrook has no desire to own and operate data centres, stating instead that the firm’s strategy will be a “union of expertise” more than anything else. Vertical integration may come over time, he said, as the firm acquires more assets and thus a bigger workforce to maintain them.

Scaysbrook thinks the US market has the most growth potential, as it is fragmented and rapidly decarbonising, providing a “full landscape of opportunity” for the foreseeable future.

New hire Lucas said: “In spite of how large the cloud is in data centre spaces today, we’re still at the very beginning from a growth standpoint… Capacity needs are outstripping individual companies’ operations abilities, and so they’re looking for partnerships that can help them grow. And a key part to that is not just their own sustainability goals, but also those of their customers. And that’s the unique approach that Quinbrook has taken.”