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QTS refits Dutch datacenter to warm thousands of homes with waste heat

It's getting cold out there, better spin up a few more VMs

Thousands of residents living in the Groningen region of The Netherlands will soon find their homes warmed by waste heat from local datacenters.

QTS is latest datacenter operator to team up with local utility WarmteStad to connect their facility to the Groningen district heating grid. Doing so required the construction of a specialized plant, which captures and concentrates the heat generated by the datacenter before distributing it via existing water pipes.

In this case, the datacenter effectively takes the place of a central boiler used to heat the water used to warm homes, businesses, and institutions in Groningen's northern district.

If all of this sounds familiar, QTS isn't the only datacenter working with WarmteStad on the district heating project. Earlier this year, Dutch datacenter firm Bytesnet teamed up with Boston Ltd and WarmteStad to recycle waste heat from its facilities to warm homes in the Groningen region.

To capture the heat, Bytesnet is using 21" OCP-compliant servers from Supermicro that have been submerged in Asperitas' immersion cooling tanks. These tanks are filled with a dielectric fluid that cools the components through convection. The heat captured is then dumped into the city's district water system

By 2026, WarmteStad expects to capture enough energy from these facilities to heat more than 10,000 households. A side effect of datacenter-driven district heating is that it eliminates the need for local natural gas hookups, reducing CO2 emissions in the process.

Meanwhile, this spring, Finland's largest energy company, Fortum, partnered with Microsoft on a district heat project. Much like QTS and Bytesnet, the project involved extracting waste heat from Microsoft's new Helsinki datacenter and piping the heated water to the surrounding cities of Espoo, Kauniainen, and the municipality of Kirkkonummi.

Microsoft and Fortum estimate that when complete, the datacenter will provide heat for about 100,000 of the region's 250,000 residents and cut CO2 emissions by 400,000 tons.

While district heating isn't as common in the US — usually only showing up in campus environments like colleges and universities — it's far more common in Europe, where utilities are increasingly partnering with datacenters.

This is partly because the ability to reuse datacenter waste heat is usually limited to colder climates, and much of the infrastructure required for these kinds of partnerships is centered in Northern Europe, according to an Uptime Institute report from this fall.

And while a reduction in CO2 emissions is often cited as part of these projects, datacenter heat reuse can often result in higher energy consumption due to the heat pumps required to boost the outgoing water temperature. However, analysts found the higher energy consumption is offset by the reduction in carbon emissions compared to other heating methods. ®

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