Chinese company LandOcean is set to expand its interests in the sector should the government join forces to build a best-in-class data centre.

The facility will be designed to store and optimise years of geological research and, more broadly, make T&T the energy technology hub for the region. It’s the latest plug for growing the T&T economy by exploiting Big Data.

Gwengwen Sun, LandOcean’s chairman, envisions a National Energy Data Centre; a Tier III facility that will cost approximately US$100 million and measure 200,000 square feet when completed.

The facility will likely offer tiered services including cloud access to high-quality geospatial data.

LandOcean says it wants to enable T&T to provide powerful exascale computing specifically for multinationals operating in Latin America and the Caribbean. Potentially, the data centre could sell secure storage and processing services to countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana, where supermajor ExxonMobil has just announced a significant hydrocarbon find.

Over time, it could offer competitively-priced data services to countries as far away as North Africa.

But there’s a catch. To bring the idea to fruition, Sun is proposing a concessional loan deal between Trinidad and Tobago and the Chinese government. His team has already submitted a proposal to local investment promotion agency InvesTT and had preliminary talks with InvesTT president Racquel Moses as well as T&T’s ambassador in Beijing, Chandradath Singh.

“I am aware that there is an election going on,” Sun said through David Chen, his business partner in the role of interpreter, “But we need to actively consider this type of infrastructure investment [and get] the Chinese government to help.”

Under the project, LandOcean will build the facility and provide technical services. These include petroleum geological data processing, reservoir simulation, digital oilfield technology and seismic data processing.

There’s a plan to clean up a rash of datasets that either exist in silos or, worse, are unusable. The company said it will also deploy its own E&P software, which it claims is every bit as powerful as Schlumberger’s GeoQuest but competitively priced.

Several factors suggest that any proposal for a central data repository for the energy sector merits consideration. First, the industry has been clamouring for this for years. Second, LandOcean is not the first company to float the idea. David Borde of PetroCom Technologies has been making the case to successive Ministers of Energy for the past eight years.

“We are calling it the Petroleum Intelligence Centre that would drive the knowledge economy,” Borde said. “We are talking about adding 10 percent to GDP based on better data.”

Michelle Allum, PetroCom’s technical team lead and a petroleum geoscientist, has overseen her company’s assessment of the way data is handled across the industry.

“The ministry’s practices have to move from storage to data optimisation, Allum said. “It is huge and complex and it is going to require significant stakeholder consultation.”

In the past 10 years, policies on data management across successive administrations have become stale.

There has been nothing further from the ministry about the draft energy policy which followed consultations in 2011, when issues about data management were raised.

Executives interviewed for this story, speaking on condition of anonymity, said data security remains a primary concern, mostly because data provides a competitive advantage. But if companies such as PetroCom and LandOcean have anything going for them, it could be timing.

LandOcean chairman Gwengwen Sun and partner David Chen review data at San Fernando headquarters.  Photo by Mark Gellineau

LandOcean chairman Gwengwen Sun and partner David Chen review data at San Fernando headquarters. Photo by Mark Gellineau

In a low-price environment, with companies still spending significant cash on data services, neither Ramnarine, if he is returned to office after the election, nor his successor will want to discount the growing body of evidence showing that expert data management is a potential boon to the economy.

Gwengwen Sun, who is based in Beijing, remains optimistic — as well he should, given that the government’s diversification strategy identifies ICT as one of the sectors for development.

And LandOcean will be encouraged by early signs that investors are getting the message about T&T’s suitability for ICT projects.

In February, Caribbean IXP (Trinidad) Limited, backed by a U.S. investor, announced construction of a US$40 million Tier III carrier-neutral data centre at Tamana InTech Park in East Trinidad, the first of its kind in the country.

That decision, according to InvesTT’s manager of investor sourcing, Sekou Alleyne, “reinforced key advantages this country has over other sites, including low energy costs, a stable political environment, quality telecommunications infrastructure which includes at least five Miami-linked fibre optic cables and, importantly, T&T’s geographic location outside the hurricane belt.”

While Caribbean IXP’s facility will operate as a kind of data centre hotel serving clients in various industries, Sun said the National Energy Data Centre will be purpose-built to meet the unique needs of oil and gas companies.

If the project gels, he says, T&T could beef up exports of energy services to the region and attract higher levels of foreign investment. On the face of it, this is a compelling value proposition.

Still, the most important plus for LandOcean’s proposal is that it comes on the heels of renewed economic cooperation between China and T&T following the historic visit of President Xi Jinping in 2013.

That visit culminated with the opening of the Trinidad and Tobago embassy in Beijing and suggests that financing for the data centre is well within reach even if — and Sun is adamant about this — the initiative has to come from the T&T government.

China’s handshake with CARICOM leaders in 2013 was a US$3 billion handshake. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese loans to Venezuela alone have amounted to nearly US$37 billion since 2008, so nobody should doubt China’s willingness to put its money where its own energy needs can be met.

A Tier III data centre of this kind could align with China’s strategic interests in the region.