Don’t let heat go to waste: how and why data centers use waste heat

Equipment installed in data centers generates a large amount of heat that needs to be removed somewhere. There are many ways to do this. Most often, thermal energy is simply “thrown away”, it is not used in any way. At the same time, data centers, according to various sources, consume 3-5% of the energy generated worldwide. But in a number of regions, heat is literally money, so many companies are trying to use waste heat to their advantage.

Recently I asked who, where and how uses this heat, and it turned out that there are not so few projects, and some of them are quite interesting. If you have your own cases, or read something interesting about this, let’s discuss it.

Heating a lobster farm in Norway

Looks like data center staff invited a lobster to a beer party

Implementation of this project started just the other day… Data center operator Green Mountain has contracted with Norwegian Lobster Farm to breed lobster. Most lobster species are thermophilic, which means that the farm needs to either be located in a region with a high level of insolation, or to heat the reservoir where the wards live.

The Norwegians chose the second option. According to the terms of the agreement, the farm will receive heat from the DC1-Stavanger data center. Of course, not free of charge, but, in any case, the cost of the generated heat will be low. In any case, lower than if you had to spend expensive electricity or other resources to heat the reservoir.

The farm, by the way, is very advanced, it uses modern technologies, including computer vision, monitoring of each crustacean and robots that perform technical work. The heat from the data center will be used to heat the water to 20 ° C.

DC1-Stavanger is located in a relatively remote region from settlements, so it will not be possible to use heat to heat houses. So, only the inhabitants of the farm will enjoy the warm water.

Growing tomatoes

Similar project proposed (and is marketed by) the Netherlands-based cloud hosting operator Blockheating. The project participants are the owners of tomato greenhouses, the manufacturer of OCP systems ITRenew and, accordingly, the Blockheating company.

Unlike the previous project, the equipment is housed in containerized all-in-one data centers that are installed directly in the greenhouse. The rejected heat enters the system to heat the greenhouses, thereby creating an optimal microclimate.

According to the project data, one such container micro-data center is capable of heating two hectares of greenhouses at once in summer and 0.5 hectares in winter. About 700 tons of tomatoes are harvested per hectare per crop in the Netherlands, so the heat is used to great advantage, allowing farmers to save on heating.

By the way, the containers use a liquid cooling system, which, when combined with a water heat exchanger, allows you to heat water to a temperature of 65 ° C.

Greenhouse with robots in the USA

It was reported earlier this month that Digital Crossroads has teamed up with a local university to develop a robotic greenhouse. The goal of the project is to create a system that can be useful when establishing a colony on the Moon or Mars.

In our case, the greenhouse is heated with heat from the Digital Crossroads data center. The greenhouse area is not that large – about 400 square meters. But this is only the beginning, if everything works out, then the project will be scaled.

The project received about $ 1 million in investments from private companies and the state, so it will actively develop in the near future. If everything works out, then it is quite possible that similar projects will be initiated in other countries by other companies – why should the heat be wasted in vain?

Heating of houses in Denmark

At the end of 2020, Facebook began work on expanding the European data center in the city of Odense (Denmark) by 30 thousand square meters. The infrastructure expansion will cost the company approximately DKK 10 billion ($ 1.5 billion). Like all Facebook data centers, the data center in Denmark runs on renewable electricity – wind power.

In the new data center, the company has added a data center heat recovery system for heating Odense homes. At the start of the project, the capacity of the system was sufficient to heat about 6900 houses. But the company plans to expand its data center, so now there will be more houses with high-tech heating – the figure will approach 11,000.

The heat removed from the servers heats the water, which passes through a copper pipe system located on the roof of the data center. The heated water is directed to the heat pump of the local heat supply organization. The temperature inside the “hot corridors” of the computer rooms of the Facebook data center in Denmark is lower than that of most other data centers – between 27 and 46 ° C. As a result, the waste water is warm, not hot, and needs additional heating. Therefore, it is sent to heat pumps, where it is heated to the required temperature – 60 ° C.

Facebook is implementing this project with Danish heating supplier Fjernvarme Fyn. Heat pumps from this company are used in the technological process before being sent through the central heating system of Odense. A total of 165,000 MWh of energy will be consumed per year for secondary water heating. However, it is much more profitable than taking cold water and heating it up.

Global heat recovery from data centers in Norway

In early 2021, Norway received an interesting proposal from the Minister of Energy of Norway – Tina Bru. The minister proposes to use the heat generated by the data center for the benefit of local residents, including heating buildings, industries, fish farms.

Norway is now actively trying to become greener, with a minimum of negative impact on the environment. But it doesn’t always work out. The fact is that the widespread use of the Internet, global electrification increase the need for network equipment and the highways themselves. Along with this, the volumes of consumed electricity are growing. Therefore, Bru suggests thinking now how efficiently the resource is being allocated and reused right now.

Norway, thanks to its climate and tax incentives, is an attractive region for data center operators. So, as taxes for electricity, data centers pay about $ 0.005 per 1 kWh, and consumers – only $ 0.02. Several large DC of well-known companies are located in the country, and even more are planned to be built.

Some Norwegian companies are already involved in the thermal recycling process. So, the country’s largest data center DigiPlex in Oslo directs part of the excess heat to heat residential buildings. The company has reached an agreement with utility provider Fortum, which operates on similar terms with data centers throughout Scandinavia. When the system is fully operational, DigiPlex was supposed to heat 5,000 apartments in Oslo.

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