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Can Data Centres Help Fight Against Climate Change?

16th, December 2019

In 2015, 185 countries signed the Paris Agreement which aimed to reduce the emission of gases that contribute to climate change. Those who signed agreed to take action to prevent global temperatures from increasing more than 2°c.

Every sector must look at reducing their energy consumption. With technology being the fastest growing industry, and data centres being at the heart of IT infrastructure, is it time to find a way to take climate seriously and harness the excess energy produced by data centres.

Data centres not only keep us connected they can also convert billions of Kwh of electricity into heat. Data centres are one of the fastest growing consumers of energy around the world and by 2030 data centres will consume around 8% of the world’s total energy. Incredibly 207 million homes could run off the energy used by UK data centres alone. Despite this, the sad fact is that only around 19% of data centres use their waste heat. Data centres produce so much energy it is conceivable to consider that they could eventually produce a sustainable energy source. They could even supply electricity to our homes, heat our hospitals and reduce our carbon footprint.

A perfect example of this is in Sweden where Stockholm Data Parks decided to use their excess energy to heat people’s homes. The data centre uses cold water pipes to create the cold air they blow on their servers to keep them from overheating. The water, which has been heated by the cooling process is then distributed for heating. The project has been so successful that they have set a long-term goal to meet 10% of the entire heating need of Stockholm by 2035.

Sweden is not the only country to start harnessing data centre energy, others have been following suit with similar small-scale projects in the US, Canada and France. In Switzerland a data centre located in a former Swiss military bunker uses excess heat waste to keep public swimming pools warm. Excess heat generated is collected in a storage area, where it heats up water that is piped into the swimming pool.

As these examples show, it is perfectly feasible that data centres could offer a realistic alternative source of energy. Data centres use a massive amount of energy which often have a negative environmental impact. If more companies and organisations committed to energy efficiency and feeding back their waste heat, we may one day see data centres running a town or leisure facility near you.

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