Data Centers Heat Offices, Greenhouses, Pools


Waste heat from servers at the new Telecity Paris data center (left) is being used to heat an on-site arboretum (right).

A growing number of data centers are redirecting the heat from their hot aisles to nearby homes, offices, greenhouses and even pools. The ability to re-use excess heat from servers is being built into new data centers, helping to improve the energy efficiency profile of these facilities.

The latest example comes from Telecity, which is using waste heat from its new Condorcet data center in Paris to heat an on-site Climate Change Arboretum, where scientisits will recreate the climatic conditions expected to prevail in France in 2050. Société Forestière and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) will use the arboretum to grow and research plants from around the world with the aim of selecting those species most adaptable to changes in the prevailing climatic conditions.

Temperatures in most data center hot aisles range from 80 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 46 degrees Celsius), still fairly low temperatures for some heat recovery strategies. But we’re seeing more facilities finding ways to capture and reuse this heat. Here are some examples:

  • Excess heat from servers at the new Telehouse West data center in the Docklands section of London will soon be used in nearby houses and businesses. The waste heat from the $180 million Telehouse colocation facility will be used in a district heat network, which is  expected to produce up to nine megawatts of power for the local Dockland community.
  • An IBM data center in Switzerland is being used to heat a nearby swimming pool. Hot air generated by the Uitikon center will flow through heat exchangers to warm water that will be pumped into the nearby pool.
  • Waste heat from a data center in Finland underneath Uspenski Cathedral will warm up water pipes and channel it to nearby homes fro heating. The planned data center for information technology services firm Academica would be capable of providing enough heat to warm up 500 large private houses.
  • A data center built by IBM and Syracuse University uses gas-powered microturbines to generate on-site power. During the winter, the 585 degree F (307 C) exhaust from the microturbines flows through heat exchangers to produce hot water, which is then piped to a nearby office building to be reused in the building’s heating system.
  • The Notre Dame Center for Research Computing has placed a rack of high-performance computing (HPC) nodes at a local municipal greenhouse, the South Bend Greenhouse and Botanical Garden, to help heat the flowers and plants in the facility.
  • Quebecor channels excess heat produced by servers at its data center in Winnipeg, Canada to the nearby offices of a local newspaper. The company ran a second duct out of the exhaust plenum to the intake duct of the editorial office upstairs. The process was  controlled by pneumatic baffles that open and close depending on readings of thermometers within the ducts.

IBM’s Elisabeth Stahl noted the benefits of using the data center as an energy producer in a recent Industry Perspectives column. “Through adopting this final level of the IT energy efficiency hierarchy, we can build a scalable, flexible, and green data center that is dynamic in its infrastructure,” Stahl wrote. “Through this ‘self-actualization’ we can potentially save on energy costs; as a producer we might also even be able to make money as well.”

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Rich, The first example I ever saw of this was at Worcester Polytechnic Institute back in 1986. They vented the heat from their computer room to a space just beneath the tiled walkway going into the library (I think it was the library). Anyway, in the winter it melted the snow and ice which is abundant several months a year and cut out a lot of slip and fall risk. Does anyone in the DCK universe know if they still do that? If so, it's 23 year old technology still plugging away. Green and practical ahead of their time...

  2. Mark: Interesting that you say that... we were speaking with another college in MA recently and they made reference to that specific installation at WPI. We may be looking to implement something similar with this client. We have not personally seen it done anywhere else but it was certainly a progressive thought for 1986 that would still work today. Thank you for bringing it up!