A lot of hot air? Server farms plan to heat Amsterdam for free

The residual heat generated by the Equinix data centre on the A10 Amsterdam ring road will partly be used to heat the University of Amsterdam buildings in the city’s  science park, the Parool has reported.

In the future, Equinix hopes to deliver the remainder of its surplus heat to the district heating network known as stadsverwarming which already heats some 70,000 homes in the capital, the paper said.

In 2016, Amsterdam city council published a plan to rid the city of gas-fired cooking and central heating by 2050. The city has plans to build 50,000 new homes within the next 10 years and none will have gas heating or cooking facilities.

Instead, the homes will be heated by surplus heat generated by industry – and server farms are an excellent source. There are some 35 data centres in and around Amsterdam and Schiphol airport, each holding tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of computers which are at work day and night.

Together, they generate enough surplus heat to warm up half of Amsterdam, Stijn Grove of the Dutch Data Centre Association told the paper. The DDA estimates that a single 30,000 m2 server farm generates as much heat as the entire catering sector – hotels, restaurants and cafés –  used in 2015.

But many problems still have to be ironed out before the excess heat created at the data centres can be used to heat Amsterdam. Chief among these is transport – expensive pipelines are necessary – and the need to raise the temperature of the residual warmth to residential standards.

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