Better known for its proximity to stunning highland scenery, Inverness is to host a new data centre built to exploit an equally valuable asset - renewable energy.

The result of a £20 million ($29.8 million) collaboration between Alchemy Plus and Microsoft, the 20,000 square feet facility in the town's Harbour development area is designed to go beyond housing the usual utility computing hardware found in any other rival's data centre.

According to Alchemy Plus, waste heat extracted from the centre, due to be opened in 2010, will be transferred to neighbouring parts of Inverness to warm properties using an unspecified method. It is not clear that this heat will be cheaper than other sources, but it will be able to claim to be 'greener'.

The company has also made a general commitment to use the locality's growing stock of renewable wind and water energy to power, or part-power, the centre, further reducing its official carbon footprint.

"This development could not be better timed. Demand for premium data centre space continues to far outstrip available supply, and the current economic downturn is driving a rapid shift towards "Cloud" based services," said Alchemy Plus's chairman, Peter Swanson.

Not coincidentally, Scotland is being touted for two other data centres based on the same theme of 'green' energy, the first of which is a massive 250,000 square foot centre proposed for Lockerbie in the borders of Scotland. To be built and run by 'Built by Lockerbie Data Centres', the project would create one of the largest data centres in the world, and again it will pipe waste heat to a nearby housing scheme.

Meanwhile, Atlantis Resources Corporation has proposed building one by the Pentland Firth and designed to exploit wave turbine energy capable of supplying 40 percent of the centre's needs.

Alchemy implied that the chilly climate of Inverness, situated in the north of Scotland, will somehow reduce the centre's cooling requirements, though this looks a bit far-fetched. Without turning the whole building into a sophisticated heat exchanger, it's hard to see how a few degrees in average temperature will make any noticeable difference compared to putting the centre in, say Edinburgh or Birmingham.

More likely, it is just cheaper to build data centres away from expensive urban areas further south, and cheaper possibly to staff and run them too. Towns in the highlands of Scotland are eager for new jobs and perhaps the centres will attract as-yet unspecified tax concessions too.

All three of these centres have yet to receive planning permission, so it's early to suggest Scotland might be about to become a new boom country for the cloud computing world. But it would sure beat sheep farming.