James Smurthwaite looks at further benefits from datacentres

I wrote in my last blog about the potential for heat reuse from datacentres.

On-site, heat energy ejected from server rooms can be used to heat other parts of the building or to support hot water supply.

Heat pumps can also use this rejected energy to provide electric-only cooling, heating and hot water.

But we can look further afield – beyond the datacentre itself to its neighbouring buildings.

We just need to make the decisions to deliver a step-change now

James Smurthwaite James Smurthwaite Business Development Manager

Finding the edge

While it’s true that the massive data centres most people will associate with this sector are often in isolated areas, the shape of data storage and supply is changing.

They are now smaller and much closer to other businesses and homes.

The growth of mobile access to the internet and the Internet of Things has made us all very demanding data customers. We want access to services now – with less and less time lag tolerated by consumers or businesses.

The result of this right-now culture is the edge network.

Localised

Physically, this means building smaller, localised data centres that can carry the data to customers faster and with less ‘latency’ – or time delays. You can expect to see more of these buildings developed around our cities and larger towns.

Cisco’s Annual Internet Report (2018 to 2023) estimates that one of the main growing areas is M2M (machine-to-machine) smart devices.

There will be 14.7 billion M2M connections by 23 – and that’s in excessive of the 29.3 billion networked devices such as mobile phones.

The numbers are enormous, and there is no way to reduce our usage of the internet.  At this time we are all more reliant on it than ever. But it is possible to make these centres more energy-efficient and to use them to support community-wide heating needs.

Using rejected heat

Some European countries are already doing just this.

So far, take-up in the UK has been small but the potential for adjacent buildings or local heat networks to take up some of the rejected heat energy is theoretically possible.

One example is Facebook’s data centre in Odense, Denmark.

In July 2020, the tech giant announced that its latest data centre is helping to heat 7,000 local homes through a local district heating system.

The system circulates water from the Odense district heating system into Facebook’s 50,000sqm campus. The water passes through copper coils inside each of the data centre’s 176 cooling units. The heated water then returns to the heat pump facility, which raises the water temperature further for use in the district heating system.

A critical part

In Sweden, the concept of using heat from data centres is well-established. Capital city Stockholm regards the rejected heat as a critical part of its aim to be ‘fossil free’ by 2040. At the Stockholm Data Park, the centres receive payments for their excess heat which supplies a local heat network for homes and businesses.

These seemingly revolutionary approaches to using waste heat from buildings that produce so much of it are great for the environment and good for business.

Sweden is gaining global data centre customers who want to align themselves with its sustainable goals – Microsoft announced that it would build its most environmentally friendly data centres in Sweden for that reason.

As the UK government looks to decarbonise heating in the UK, it seems an ideal opportunity to use the growing data centre sector as a source of low-carbon heat that can support local communities directly.

The technology to achieve this is already here – we just need to make the decisions to deliver a step-change now.

James Smurthwaite is Business Development Manager