The US city of Seattle is considering the idea of using waste heat from data centres to heat itself, funnelling energy from gigantic server rooms into a new district heating system to keep people warm.
The idea is to give the now-ageing technology of district heating — where heat is generated centrally and then distributed to buildings — a modern shot in the arm. According to The Economist, city authorities are in talks with Seattle Steam, a utility company called Corix and developers to build a district-energy system that would use heat from data centres. If it goes ahead, it's hoped that the excess energy from data centres in the Westin Building and Fischer Plaza could heat new buildings, perhaps even including Amazon's new HQ.
Currently, the excess heat from those data centres is dissipated into water, and then dumped out into the atmosphere via cooling towers. While that water isn't quite hot enough to heat buildings as it stands, a small injection of energy by Corix should make it warm enough to be pumped into buildings and radiators, providing low-cost, green heating.
There are some stumbling blocks. While the city is keen on the idea, the data centres and developers currently aren't committed to the project. You can add to that the fact that it would be expensive to implement in old buildings; ripping out electric heating to replace it with hot water systems is laborious (and seems like somewhat of a backward step too).
Essentially, it's a case of proving whether the long-term benefits could outweigh the short-term costs. If the city can convince everyone that's the case, then data centre heating could well be the future for Seattle and beyond. [Economist]