Data centres can play a significant role in the heat transition through their waste heat in integrated concepts. It is worth taking a look at some Scandinavian projects.
Energy demand for data centres in Germany has increased by 60 percent since 2010, according to the Borderstep Institute. When it comes to power supply, many data centre operators rely on energy from renewable sources. The growing digital infrastructure also offers further sustainability potential through the waste heat generated by the computer servers.
This approach allows excess heat to be used to supply heat to neighbouring buildings or entire city districts by means of district heating. The fact that data centres are often located close to points of connection to the district heating network, and that the existing steam and hot water heating networks are only suitable for absorbing low-temperature heat from data centres to a limited extent, creates some challenges in technical implementation
Some data centres, especially in Scandinavia, are already making good use of waste heat, and some are planning for it in new projects from the outset. Let's look at the following as examples:
Danfoss Headquarters in Nordborg (Denmark)
The Danish manufacturer of heating and cooling technology, the Hamburg branch of which is also an EEHH member, plans to supply a quarter of the heat for the 250,000 square metres of factory and office space at its headquarters in Nordborg, Denmark, with waste heat from its own nearby data centre by 2024. The close proximity between heat generation and use has a crucial role to play. Further surplus heat energy will also be made available to the surrounding community.
Yandex Data Centre in Mäntsälä (Finland)
The use of (industrial) waste heat in the district heating network has a long tradition in Finland, while the country is also becoming increasingly popular as a location for data centres, for example also for the Russian search engine operator Yandex in Mäntsälä, north of Helsinki. Each year, around 30 gigawatt hours of heat energy are sold as waste heat to the local energy supplier Nivos Energia Oy and fed into the grid. The cooling water from the server hall has a temperature of approx. 37 degrees and is treated to up to 80 Celsius before it is fed into the district heating network. Despite this temperature increase, the carbon equivalent is 65 per cent lower than when gas is used to generate the same amount of heat.
VindØ – Artificial Energy Island (Denmark)
During the planning of the world's first artificial energy island in the North Sea off Denmark, the Danish parent company of EEHH member Rambøll Deutschland has not only offshore wind and the production of green hydrogen in mind, but also the feasibility of housing a data centre on the island, which is expected to be completed by 2030. Its close proximity to renewable wind power and the growing demand for computing power could make it an attractive model. The accommodation for the staff based on the island could in turn be supplied with heat using the waste heat from the data centre.
The EEHH member Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance e.V. (SDIA) is intensively involved with the use of waste heat from data centres in Hamburg. In cooperation with EEHH member Vattenfall, it launched the ECO-Qube project, with the objective of increasing the energy efficiency of new and existing data centres.