Data centres contain servers, which produce heat as they process information. The bigger the data centre, the more heat emitted. In fact, these data centres guzzle 1 to 1.5 percent of the world’s electricity supply. So, why not put it to good use?
In January, when the 5,000 students who attend Technological University Dublin returned from their winter holiday to their cold suburban campus in Tallaght, the warm air that greeted them came not from a traditional gas or electric boiler like most other buildings in Dublin. It came instead from a large hangar-like warehouse a kilometre down the road, where piping-hot servers stored terabytes of online shopping information: an Amazon data centre.
The university, along with the nearby South Dublin County Council building, were the first customers of a new district heating system that became operational in mid-December. When servers in the Amazon data centre process information, they emit excess heat that would usually enter the atmosphere as waste. The city’s new heating system instead recovers this heat for reuse, channeling it into buildings as an unusual form of green energy.
Better yet, Amazon provides the waste heat from its centre in Tallaght for free, as it reduces the cost of energy required to power its cooling mechanism.
“It’s essentially a plug and play replacement for the old buildings’ gas boilers,” says John O’Shea, who leads the heat and electricity division at Dublin’s energy agency Codema. “It operates at similar temperatures, so they don’t need to undergo massive fabric upgrades or change radiator sizes. They can just take advantage of it.”
O’Shea estimates that the Tallaght project is saving 1,400 tons of CO2 emissions every year, which equals a reduction of about 60 percent compared to the previous system of individual on-site boilers. Once fully operational, the system is expected to heat 47,000 sq.m of local public buildings, 3,000 sq.m of commercial buildings, and 135 apartments.
Such systems are set to become increasingly popular because waste heat is treated as a renewable energy source. “You’re basically reusing something that’s currently being dumped, so there’s no additional climate impact to it,” O’Shea said.