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Warren Knight explores how data centres can reuse heat to reduce energy consumption

With the growing importance of data centres in our everyday lives, the sector’s energy efficiency is under increasing scrutiny. While the industry has worked hard to increase computing capacity while controlling energy use, it’s not a straightforward issue.

One of the main drivers for change in the data centre industry is technology, and the Uptime Institute noted in its Q3 report of 2022 that things are changing rapidly in this area. For example, the Institute notes that energy consumption in data centres worldwide has remained relatively stable for the past decade or so. But this looks set to change as data centre tech becomes ever-more supercharged.

Silicon power is behind this development. It’s creating faster servers that match the world’s growing need for faster data processing, which is becoming more important as we stand on the outskirts of the new metaverse and AI-based businesses.

It’s impossible to hold back the future of data centres and there is concern about sustainability

WarrenKnight Warren Knight M&E Contractor Business Development Manager

Considering the options

But with great power comes more heat. The Uptime Institute notes: “High thermal power and lower temperature limits of next-generation server processors will challenge the practicality of air cooling and frustrate efficiency and sustainability drives.”

It’s impossible to hold back the future of data centres, but to give the industry its due, there is concern about how to achieve this sustainably. It’s going to need some rethinking. 

As noted, the data centre market has been relatively straightforward to understand in terms of cooling needs based on rack density.

However, with change coming rapidly, designers and data centre operators must consider other options.

Selecting the right solution

Finding areas for conserving energy is therefore vital, and data centre cooling systems are a potential source of savings.

Selecting the right cooling solution can improve the energy efficiency of data centres not only reduces their carbon footprint but also enables them to make better use of renewable energy sources such as PVs – and reduce operational costs.

Mitsubishi Electric has developed its range of specialist IT cooling systems with energy efficiency in mind.

Our IT cooling systems are used globally to provide energy-efficient cooling solutions for data centre managers who are targeted with lowering their energy use. Our expert team can also help with advice on the right solutions. One example Mitsubishi Electric project is the provision of cooling for Italy’s Davinci-1 supercomputer.

Reusing heat

One of the most critical questions for the future will be what to do with the heat ejected from data centres.  This is an environmental and financial question – wasted heat is wasted energy. One development gaining ground is re-using or even homes. If we treat the ejected heat as a form of energy, then the combination of efficient cooling and heat pumps for modern ambient networks can make all the difference.

The method is being widely considered by the data centre sector and local planners. It has already been applied in Europe.

The heat removed from the data centre servers is applied to water circulated to other buildings. Some high-temperature systems can be used directly in other buildings where appropriate. However, low-temperature rejected heat can be combined with heat pumps to raise the water temperature for DHW and space heating in offices and homes.

This approach is known as an ambient heat loop or Fifth Generation heat network. Mitsubishi Electric is at the forefront of developing heat pump systems (such as our Ecodan Hydrodan) that can deliver ambient loops.

There can be little doubt that the modern world needs data centres, but not at the price of the environment. Harnessing energy efficient cooling with the re-use of ejected heat seems like a sound solution to the challenge.

Mitsubishi Electric will be at Data Centre World in London (8th and 9th  March). If you want to learn more about our cooling and heat pump systems, drop by our stand to speak with one of our experts.

Warren Knight is M&E Contractor Business Development Manager