Emails and Instagram photos don’t come without a carbon footprint: they’re stored in data centers which continually battle excess heat and suck up electricity to cool servers. But Stockholm, Sweden recently came up with a rather ingenious use for all that waste heat: what if it could warm homes instead?
Most data centers aren’t very environmentally friendly. According to one estimate, they consume roughly the same amount of power as the airline industry, and the amount of electricity used in the centers could triple during the upcoming decade. But data center heat could help cities transition away from fossil fuels in a major way. Just one 10-megawatt data center can provide enough heat for 20,000 apartments.
Stockholm started an initiative, Stockholm Data Parks, for their vision of “a data center industry where no heat is wasted.” Under the initiative, renewable energy will power data centers, and heat produced will be sold to district heating company Fortum Värme, which has been looking to biomass or waste heat to provide heating instead of fossil fuels. The presence of a district heating system sets Stockholm up to utilize data center heat on a large scale.
Stockholm’s district heating system has already begun working with small data centers, and Stockholm Data Parks said on their website they will bring together, prepare, and offer “all necessary infrastructure elements at attractive greenfield and brownfield sites suited for data center activity.” Power grid operator Ellevio and dark fiber provider Stokab are participating in the initiative along with Fortum Värme.
Some data centers do operate on renewable energy, but if their excess heat could go to a district heating system, Stockholm’s data centers could even become carbon positive. A 10-megawatt center could lower emissions by 8,000 metric tons. Since Stockholm’s goal is to go fossil fuel free by 2040, the Stockholm Data Parks vision could push the country closer to that target.