Harnessing datacenter heat for savings

Some companies are putting datacenter heat to valuable reuse

The heat that pours out of your datacenter machinery represents a hefty chunk of your monthly utility bills. After all, were it not for that heat waste, you wouldn't be pouring dollars into running that pricey cooling equipment to ensure your valuable hardware doesn't get fried.

While many vendors out there are devising CRAC hardware and cooling technologies for more efficiently and inexpensively beating the datacenter heat, some organizations are taking another tack: putting all of that hot air to valuable reuse, which can have pleasant financial and environmental benefits.

Datacenters are responsible for a goodly amount of heat waste, to be sure: "In many cases, a datacenter can generate enough heat to heat a building 10 to 30 times its size," says says Steve Sams, vice president of IBM Global Site and Facilities Services. "That's a lot."

Recycling heat

One of the most logical uses of datacenter heat waste is, indeed, to warm up the rest of an organization's building. Intel is doing just that with a heat-reuse system designed for its first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified green building, a development center in Israel.

The system employs HR (heat recovery) chillers instead of standard chilled water systems. While a chilled water system releases hot condenser water directly into the atmosphere via the cooling tower, the HR chiller system uses that heated water to warm the rest of the building in the winter and provide hot water for bathroom and kitchen use year-round.

According to Intel, "reusing datacenter heat eliminates the need to add boilers for heating the rest of the building. This energy-saving approach accumulates points towards environmental certification and is highly cost-effective."

The company projects savings of approximately US$235,000 annually due to reduced fuel consumption, resulting in an ROI of just over 19 months.

Sharing the warmth

Of course, not every datacenter has a nearby facility to heat up -- but that doesn't mean the excess heat it produces needs to go to waste. Co-location service provider GIB recently partnered with IBM to transform a former underground military bunker in Uitikon, outside of Zurich, into a highly secure data-storage facility. Operating at full capacity, the facility is expected to create 2,800 megawatts of wasted heat per year (the same amount of energy needed to supply up to 80 houses with heating and warm water for one year).

"Whenever we can, we encourage our clients to find opportunities to reuse waste heat in the datacenter environment," says IBM's Sams. In this case, however, there was no office building to reuse the facility's heat, given that it's out in the middle of the woods and hidden underground.

Turns out there was a better alternative to simply blowing cold air at the problem: GIB and IBM devised a direct heat exchange between the datacenter and local public swimming pool. Yes, the people of the town can now enjoy a swim in water warmed up for free by the datacenter's heat waste.

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