Data Centers Reuse Waste Heat

ICT facilities are becoming increasingly innovative in reusing their waste heat, a trend we first identified in 2009. This has been strongest in Europe, where many municipalities have district heating infrastructures into which facilities can transfer excess heat. Our latest example, from Switzerland, is just this sort of arrangement.


Our first example (below) was fromSwitzerland, to where we return for the latest. Telecom provider Swisscomm's Wankdorf data center feeds waste heat into "...into the Berne district heating network and heats homes in the vicinity." Wankdorf won an award for its innovative cooling features.


The DatacenterDynamics ‘Innovation in the Micro-Data Center' award recognizes facilities that "Have a total facility power requirement of up to 250 KW." The 2013 winner was Spanish natural gas provider Enagás. The company says of its Zaragoza Data Center, "Part of the residual heat energy generated in gas combustion is used to fuel the heating system of the laboratory of high-pressure meters, while the remainder is transformed into the cooling energy needed for the IT equipment."


Global data center operator Atos reports that the company "...and its partners, Academica’s and Helsingin Energia’s received [the 2012 ICT Project of the Year] award for their green cloud data center [that] provides the city of Helsinki with energy based on heat recovery...[The facility] is located in district cooling loop and transfer points at the intersection, next to the plant and growing area of Kalasatama...the extra heat created by its servers will be transferred to the district heating network to provide heat and warm water for 4,500 new 80 m2 apartments in the city."

Equinix has won the 2012 DatacenterDynamics ‘Green’ Data Center award for its Amsterdam (NLD) facility. The data center "...enables its customers to significantly reduce their CO2 footprint. The facility uses hybrid cooling towers and Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage (ATES) technology instead of mechanical cooling to use any excess energy to heat the surrounding buildings." A May 2013 release announcing receipt of the EU Code of Conduct (CoC) on Data Center Energy Efficiency award noted that the ATES "...generates hot water for the neighboring Amsterdam University throughout the year."

Microsoft announced in November 2012 that its Data Plant pilot project will use biogas from sewage to generate electricity. The waste heat from the data center is used to improve generation efficiency. "...the microorganisms [that produce methane] need heat to be effective in treating and cleaning up sewage. Going one step further, heat generated in the Data Plant's energy generation process will be sent back to the treatment plant's anaerobic digesters to increase the effectiveness of the microorganisms, further reducing energy costs, and maximizing the community's wastewater treatment plant's capacity and return of recycled water to the environment."


French energy company Dalkia began in 2011 to help develop a business park whose data center heat "will be transmitted via a heat exchanger to a new heating network that will eventually supply green energy to buildings with a surface area of 600,000 sq. m. (6,458,350 sq. ft.)." Dalkia projects that "More than 5,400 metric tons of CO2 emissions will be saved each year." The company is well positioned to continue this approach as it operates "887 district and local heating and cooling systems. "

Some media outlets have focused on EuroDisney's ownership stake in the development near its amusement park, but there appear to be no plans to use the heat from the former in the latter. The Val d'Europe is featured in the Sustainia 100.


A datacenter built by IBM Switzerland for GIB-Solutions AG, announced in 2008 and completed in 2009, incorporates a number of innovative features.

  • It is relatively small (175 m2 IT space), demonstrating that Green ICT innovation is not limited to large facilities
  • It repurposes a Swiss military bunker, rather than incurring the carbon footprint of new construction
  • It has a heat recovery system that warms the municipal swimming pool 58m away

The heat recovery system is generating more output than is needed by the pool, so GIB-Solutions is looking for additional heat customers. Excess heat is removed with outside-air cooling. The system is projected to have an 8-10 year ROI.

The proximity of the data center to the pool is important. Heat reuse appears most practical when the users are a short distance away. Data centers on educational/business/government campuses are the obvious candidates for heat recovery.

More unique repurposing of military facilities into green data centers.

(Thank you to Sebastian Drews [@IBMCH] of IBM Switzerland for sharing information about the GIB-Solutions datacenter.)

Click the "reuse-heat" tag at the top of this post for more examples of how data centers ruse their waste heat