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Recycling heat generated by datacenters

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    30th Mar, 2022

Context

Global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky estimated that in winter, a datacentre can provide heating up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to a gas boiler, with better energy efficiency than a heat pump in a new house.

Background

  • Microsoft has partnered with Fortum, a Finnish energy company to heat homes, services and businesses in Finland with sustainable waste heat from a new datacentre region that Microsoft has planned to build.
  • The software giant claims the waste heat recycling concept from the datacentre region to be the world’s largest scheme to recycle waste heat from data centres.
  • The joint project takes place at the intersection of two megatrends: digitalisation and energy transition.

Analysis

What is a datacentre?

  • A datacentre is a physical facility that organizations use to
    • store their critical applications and data
    • process data
    • disseminate them to users
  • It is designed based on a network of computing and storage resources that enables delivery of shared applications and data.
  • The key components of a datacentre are routers, switches, firewalls, storage systems, servers, and application-delivery controllers.
  • Many large datacentres are located in dedicated buildings. Smaller datacentres may be situated in specially designed rooms within buildings constructed to serve multiple functions.
  • Since datacentres consume large amounts of energy, it’s important to ensure the physical structures that house them are well-designed and insulated to optimize temperature controls and energy efficiency.

How much heat datacentres generate?

  • The temperatures recorded in the hot aisles of a datacentre hover between 80 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky estimates over 75% of a datacentre’s electricity becomes waste heat.
  • It noted that in winter, a datacentre can provide heating up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to a gas boiler, with better energy efficiency than a heat pump in a new house.

What’s the scale of their carbon footprint?

  • On a global level, datacentres consume around 200 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, which is more than 1% of the world’s total electricity.
  • They contribute to 3% of all global CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
  • Datacentre energy usage in some countries could increase to 15% to 30% of their total domestic electricity consumption by the end of the decade.

How will this recycling work?

  • Fortum will capture the excess heat generated by the new datacentre region and transfer the clean heat from the server cooling process to homes, services and business premises that are connected to the district heating system.
  • The new generation of district heating is based on replacing fossil fuels with flexible solutions like renewable electricity, heat pumps and waste heat utilization.
  • Artificial intelligence will help optimize operations of the entire system.

District Heating System:

District heating is the most popular method of heating premises in Finland. It is a system of generating heat in a centralized location by capturing heat and then distributing it to buildings for residential and commercial heating needs. The heat is transferred to customers as hot water which is pumped through insulated underground pipes.

Which other countries recycle waste heat from datacentres?

  • District heating is popular in the Nordic and Baltic countries, as well as in Russia and China, which have high heat demands during winters.
  • Datacentres thrive in cold climates. Their location in cold climates helps to cut down on the need to cool server rooms.
  • Cold weather is also an asset as technology companies shift to selling their heat which doesn’t have a lot of demand in hot weather.

Conclusion

The tremendous IT equipment heat output of data centers and the trend toward waste heat recovery are a synergistic match. Someday, the energy industry will stop looking at the data center industry as energy hogs, but instead recruit them for contributing heat to their district energy systems.

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