Finland Taps Server Heat To Power City

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted December 4, 2009

In the battle against Climate Change, many are looking for the proverbial "silver bullet" that will solve all the world’s energy problems at once…

Whether with ethanol from corn or with energy from nuclear fusion reactors, the public expects to power their cars and homes on "the gasoline of tomorrow" — made from an inexhaustible and carbon-free resource that is accessible and abundant.

And while that kind of ideology is great — acceptance of the need to edge away from oil and embrace and develop other fuel sources — the reality of our future is looking increasingly electric, with a number of alternative energy projects like solar, geothermal, wind, hydrothermal, and nuclear plants teaming up to power the world’s increasing energy needs.

The good news: as the power structure becomes less centralized, more and more innovations will sprout up and we will move forward in efficiently using power that we already produce.

And the Europeans aren’t waiting for us. They are already taking steps to make sure they are ready long before Americans even notice we are running out of oil…

"The Helsinki Heaters"

In Helsinki, -20º is not an uncommon reading to see on the thermometer.

Add on the fact that it’s -20° degrees Celsius, and you know it’s cold! And that means when energy prices are high, heating homes can be an expensive and difficult prospect for Finnish families.

Proving invention is the product of necessity, Helsingin Energia (a utilities provider in the Nordic capital), has come up with an innovative way to fully utilize energy that they already use…

Helsingin Energia (HE) plans to use a new heating and cooling pump to recycle excess heat from a large data center to generate serious amounts of energy. The data center is being built in an old bomb shelter connected directly to HE’s direct heating system — a set of pumps that move boiling water through a system of pipes to heat the city’s homes.

How It Works

First, cold water is pumped through the data center to cool the servers; the now-warmer water is then drawn into a large pump, where it is further heated to boiling temperatures.

Once the water is hot enough to actually heat a building, it is pumped underground to Helsinki’s residential districts to heat homes. The water is then pumped back to the server room to restart the cycle.

The idea: you have hot air that needs to be cooled in the data center, in close proximity to cold air that needs to be heated in residential buildings.

This system is extremely efficient and 5 times cheaper than traditional energy sources. By using water as the transport medium, Helsingin Energia can provide more energy much more cheaply.

Putting It Into Perspective

This technology is not limited to Helsinki. Not in the least.

In fact, the people at Helsingin Energia want business leaders worldwide to know that this technology can be applied in a variety of settings and installed on a mass scale.

When you consider that nearly .5% of the world’s total energy use is dedicated solely to cooling IT servers, you can see how much power could be saved by making this type of HVAC system smarter.

It’s innovation like this that almost seems too simple. There are no overly complex power transfer locations or new infrastructures to install; rather, people have found a way to utilize power that they already produce smartly and efficiently. The simple and proven principle of using water as a medium for exchanging heat proves to save a frozen city millions of euros, all the while still looking forward in regards to protecting the environment.

And, as Americans look to address our own energy issues, one can only hope that our leaders look to Europe’s success as a model for our own infrastructure’s development.

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