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Excess heat from a data center re-purposed to warm people’s homes in Stockholm

Data centers, which are typically used to handle data when people access online services or the internet in general, can generate a lot of heat in their operations. All the excess heat from them usually just gets wasted, but now a Swedish firm has a plan to finally put them to good use.

Stockholm-based DigiPlex recently announced that it had formed a new partnership with a leading local supplier of heating and cooling services in Sweden that would make use of the excess heat generated in data centers. Stockholm Exergi and DigiPlex have agreed to go into a so-called heat re-use agreement that will benefit about 10,000 homes. Their plan is to turn an existing data center into a source of heat for the city’s district heating grid.

According to Gisle Eckhoff, the CEO of DigiPlex, data centers are heavily involved in basically every online activity that most people engage in every single day, and that they generate heat that just tends to go unused in the process. “Every time we browse the internet, stream a TV series of use the cloud, a process starts in a data center,” he explained. “If that data center is as power-hungry fossil fuel-fired one that releases excess heat into the atmosphere, we as individuals are contributing to climate change.”

He also added that improved sustainability could be aided with digitization, and that using the excess heat from data centers located in Stockholm in order to heat many local households is just one example of what can be done. “This partnership with Stockholm Exergi is a big leap forward,” Eckhoff stated, concluding that it could enable the digital activity of residents to directly contribute to heating their own homes. (Related: Stay cool without electricity: New “radiative sky cooling” system may prove useful for preppers.)

Practical applications

You may think of such a plan to be impossible, but it turns out that Stockholm is one of the few cities on Earth where implementing such a heat re-use policy can be truly plausible and effective. After all, it is said that almost 90 percent of all the buildings in the Swedish capital are already part of an existing district heating network. In fact, it ties right into the city’s own plans for green operations that are based on new and improved ways of existing technologies that are helpful to the environment.

According to Karin Wanngård, the mayor of Stockholm, digitization should be adopted further alongside the ongoing development of environmental technology. “Utilizing smart technological solutions to make the most of synergies between recovered data-center heat and the city’s heating needs is a part of the environmental objective to become fossil fuel-free by 2040,” he said. “I’m determined to make Stockholm a major hub for sustainable data centers.”

For his company’s part, Stockholm Exergi CEO Anders Egelrud says that their agreement with DigiPlex shows that they were on the right track all along with their current heat recovery program. He said that their partnership showed that the district heating systems were compatible with indirect air-to-air cooling technology, which represents a key step towards the vision of using data center heat for a more sustainable society.

It is unclear when exactly the collaboration between the two Swedish firms will begin to pay off in a big way, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. With proper execution, it could even serve as the blueprint for other cities and countries to follow in the future.

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