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Facebook Provides Homes With Recycled Heat From Data Centres

What’s happening? Facebook is using thermal energy generated by its data centre in Odense, Denmark, to heat neighbouring homes and a local hospital in collaboration with local heating firm Fjernvarme Fyn. The heat recycling system is expected to recover 100,000 MWh of energy a year. The data centre is powered by wind energy and the heat recovery system uses pumps and coils only to transfer the heat, leading to an estimated 25% fall in coal demand locally. Facebook’s first sustainability report revealed the social network has cut greenhouse gas emissions by 59% since 2017 and achieved 86% renewable energy for its entire operations.

Why does this matter? In addition to improving the energy efficiency of power-intensive data centres, Big Tech firms also increasingly have an obligation to the communities in which their facilities are built. 

Facebook’s partnership with district heating company Fjernvarme aims to achieve this by directing excess heat from servers over water coils to produce warm water. This is then pumped to a newly constructed heat pump facility near the data centre to generate hot water which is then distributed via a heating network. The facility will recover enough energy annually to warm 6,900 homes, Facebook claims.  

Amazon has also previously looked to recycle energy from its data centres to heat the company’s Seattle headquarters. 

Big Tech firms establishing new data facilities can provide impetus for local authorities to push for more renewable energy infrastructure. In New Mexico, for example, Facebook opening a three million sq ft facility reportedly resulted in a statewide push to install large-scale solar and wind.

Local communities also often have to be won over by perks offered by Big Tech. The New Mexico facility mentioned above has been heralded a success due to the job creation its generated. The facility required 1,000 people to build it and now employees 200 staff.

This trade off, however, isn’t always appealing. In Luxembourg, one local community opposed a proposed Google data centre given it was only providing 100 jobs. It will be interesting to see whether such attitudes persist at a time when unemployment has risen due to the economic impact of the coronavirus.

Despite their significant growth in numbers, data centres’ energy consumption between 2010 and 2018 increased only 6%, which could be attributed to the application of innovative technologies, such as AI, to reduce carbon footprints. Repurposing “wasted” energy could further improve this metric.

Nick Finegold is Founder & CEO of Curation Corp, an emerging and peripheral risks monitoring service.

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