'Government misses opportunity to use waste heat from data centres as heat source'

28/01/2024
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Reusing waste heat is a great opportunity for data centres to contribute to the energy transition. The emission-free heat can benefit surrounding buildings. Recently, outgoing minister Micky Adriaansens (Economic Affairs and Climate) shared a report on the state of the Dutch digital infrastructure with the Dutch Parliament. This report does not address the reuse of waste heat from data centres. This is definitely a missed opportunity for the government. When realising new data centres, the reuse of a data centre's residual heat should be included as a condition.

The report rightly points out the additional investments in data centres needed to maintain world-class connectivity. Only by maintaining this level can Dutch companies make use of technologies such as artificial intelligence or the internet of things. The report also endorses that the footprint of a data centre is much lower than is often thought. Nevertheless, all opportunities to make data centres more sustainable must be seized.

By 2050, natural gas will no longer be allowed to heat buildings. Heat demand must be met by sustainable heat sources. Here, waste heat from data centres can play an important role. The electricity that runs the servers is converted into heat. This heat can be used to heat surrounding buildings. This can be done directly or via a heat network. The power generated by a data centre can thus serve two purposes, providing direct energy savings and reducing CO2 emissions on balance.

At present, there are 28 projects using residual heat from data centres to heat the built environment. The location of a data centre is an important requirement for reusing waste the government heat. Nowadays, data centres are usually located outside inhabited areas. When building new data centres, policymakers should (more) consider location.

Samantha Reilly is sector specialist TMT-ICT and renewable energy at ING Sector Banking.

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