Data centers can be used as a sustainable heat source, as shown by 37 projects of this kind in Germany. These projects involve using neighboring data centers as a heating source. The projects include an algae farm, a swimming pool, a gym, a nightclub, a high-rise building, a university campus, and several new residential and commercial areas.
The Bytes2Heat (B2H) platform, developed by the German Business Initiative for Energy Efficiency (DENEFF), two institutes from the University of Stuttgart, and the WärmeNetze GmbH, provides data on these projects. The Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) supports the platform and aims to create a matching tool and a quick economic test to bring waste heat user partners together by 2024.
There are about 50,000 large and small data centers in Germany, and their power requirements could increase from 18 billion kilowatt hours to 27 to 34 billion kilowatt hours in 2030, according to the ICT industry association Bitkom. The servers convert every kilowatt hour of electricity into heat, and it must be dissipated so that the electronic components remain at operating temperature. While some data centers use waste heat to heat their own offices, most of it dissipates today.
Using waste heat from data centers presents several hurdles, including site planning, support from municipalities, and different time horizons. The projects in Germany show how these hurdles can be overcome. Despite the obstacles, using data centers as a sustainable heat source is more than just a sustainability project. As more and more trends consume huge amounts of data and server performance, the potential for using waste heat from data centers is huge.