November 6, 2013
We all know that a whole lot of heat and energy is generated by the average data center, but that is only the first part of the story. The city of Seattle is showing some interest in the second half of the equation. Apparently, the city honchos are toying with the idea to use the excess energy from the area’s data centers to help heat some of the city’s buildings. The energy would be diverted to Seattle’s central district heating system to aid in the delivery of warm air to the masses. Sounds kind of interesting to me, and I learned that the Finn’s are doing something similar to help warm more than the hearts of the residents of Helsinki. Both of these efforts seem reasonable to me, but my interest in the prospects for data centers as a heating source was peaked when I found out that Switzerland is tapping into an IBM data center to heat a swimming pool. Now that’s a game changer.
I think this whole idea of data centers as an alternative heat source is a real world example of the whole “waste not, want not” philosophy and offers some possibilities that no one has anticipated. As the Swiss have figured out, pool heating is a logical use for excess data center energy. Now I don’t know how big the pool is, and since one guy’s heated pool is another’s hot tub, we still have to work out the necessary MW to water volume ratios to take this concept mainstream. For example, how big a data center is actually needed to make your average Olympic sized pool suitable for a January dip in Minnesota?
Personally, I think that steam rooms are a tailor made market for the overly effusive data center. I mean really, who doesn’t like sitting around in a cedar lined box schvitzing with a few friends? Kid related activities would also seem to be a logical application, and, a good way to combine education and fun. What 9-year old wouldn’t want to take a field trip to a local data center followed by the opportunity to make S’mores when they are done? Or why not have Cub Scout Troup 214 over for a wienie roast?
Another item that would benefit from the inclusion of excess heat from data centers are those hand dryers that you find in restrooms that are too cheap to supply paper hand towels. They just never seem to stay on long enough—has anyone ever had dry hands before one of those things shut down? If you’re like me, and I know a lot of you are, you’re tired of using your pants to finish the drying process. The addition of some data center generated hot air is just the thing those blow dryers need to finally be able to perform the job they were designed to do.
The more civic minded of you probably have some thoughts of your own as to how excess heat and power can be harnessed. How about heated bus stops? Now we’re talking. Does anyone look happy standing in one of those things in December? Heck no—but just imagine the holiday joy that can be generated by being able to wait for the Number 18 crosstown while bathed in a cocoon of excess data center heat. Obviously, there are applications for even the most socially conscious among us.
I never cease to be amazed at the industries that arise in support of technologies–those guys that make the plastic boxes for iPhones for example. I think the same type of business opportunities are possible here, but on a larger scale. What the folks in Seattle have started is sure to inspire others to follow. As for me, I’ve got to run. I have to figure out how to run duct work from that new Apple site in Oregon to a city with a population over 100…