Business - 10/April/2019

Tepid support for reusing waste heat from data centres

Using waste heat from large data centres to heat homes and offices may seem like a no-brainer, but making a business case for getting heat from out-of-town data centres to urban areas at a correct temperature is complicated and costly

Not one of the hyper-scale data centres, where thousands of servers are hosted in the same place, in the US use waste heat in a significant way

- The issue: Growing numbers of data centres all produce large quantities of waste heat that in theory could be used to heat houses and offices

- The problem: With heat tricky and expensive to transport, reusing it is not a priority for data centres, which are typically located away from urban areas

- What’s happening: Countries in Northern Europe are starting to feed waste heat into district heating systems and more projects are planned, but change will take time

- Key quote: “Data centres need to become an in-between point for energy use, not an end-point. People then won’t see us as an evil industry that just consumes power.”

Data centres, the beating hearts of the digital age, have a voracious appetite for electricity. They also create vast quantities of waste heat, which is usually vented into the air and squandered. Northern Europe is making steady headway towards using this heat in district heating, but elsewhere little is being achieved beyond niche uses even though almost all electricity consumed by data centres becomes heat and could be captured and reused.

The number of data centres globally is growing exponentially as the cloud becomes ever present and computer devices, connected to the internet, become common in everyday objects. Worldwide they consumed around 194 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity in 2014, about 1% of total demand, says the International Energy Agency. Data centre workload is forecast to triple by 2020, compared to 2016, though related energy demand is expected to grow by only 3% thanks to continued efficiency gains. ...

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