UK throws millions at scheme to heat homes with waste energy from datacenters

A load of hot air?

The UK government is stumping up £36 million ($41.4 million) to help support a green energy project that aims to use waste heat from a datacenter to keep nearby homes warm.

According to the newly formed Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), the scheme will be located in the boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham and Brent and Ealing to the west of central London, and will connect 10,000 new homes to nearby datacenters to use waste energy for heating.

The project is being developed by the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), and will also connect 250,000 m2 of commercial space to the same heat network.

However, this being the UK government, many details of the plans are sketchy, and it is not clear if it will involve heat being supplied by existing datacenters or new builds that may form part of the development, for example.

Described as a "low carbon housing estate of the future," the idea is that waste energy from these datacenters will be used to provide heating and hot water for the new homes, DESNZ said.

The £36 million being coughed up for this scheme is part of a larger £65 million ($79.4 million) fund that will support another four green energy projects. £21 million ($25.6 million) of this is going to Lancaster University to "fully decarbonise" its campus with air source heat pumps and thermal storage, while the remainder will be spent on housing estates in London, Suffolk, and Watford to install heat pumps.

In a statement announcing the new projects, Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said: "We are investing in the technologies of the future so that families across the country will now be able to warm their homes with low-carbon, recycled heat – while creating thousands of new skilled jobs."

In respone to questions from The Reg, a spokesperson at DESNZ told us:

"The datacentres are within the OPDC area. OPDC are in advanced commercial and technical discussions with two data centres. We are working towards signing heads of terms with both parties and until then, we cannot specify who they are. Combined they will supply 98.7 GWh of heat.

"Following the successful application to the Green Heat Network Fund, OPDC are in the commercialisation phase of the project. £1m of the £36m grant was for this phase. We are currently preparing to launch a procurement for a Partner to develop the project through design and construction. We're expecting the project could start heating homes as early as 2027, subject to relevant approvals during the commercialisation phase."

Other schemes to recycle the waste heat from datacenters for domestic purposes were announced over the past few years, yet UK government is claiming this as the first of its kind for Britain.

Microsoft set up a agreement with Finland's largest energy company last year to build a new datacenter near capital Helsinki that could provide heat to local homes and businesses.

Dutch datacenter firm Bytesnet proposed a project last year to recycle heat from its facility in the Groningen district of the Netherlands to heat thousands of homes, while another company, QTS, offered a similar scheme in the same area.

However, a report published earlier this year found that many in the datacenter industry are skeptical about the economic viability of such schemes. One reason for this is because waste heat from datacenter infrastructure is often not at a high enough temperature for applications like municipal heating, so a heat pump is required to increase the heat, which itself consumes energy.

A report from Uptime Institute also stated that the option to reuse datacenter waste heat is "typically limited to colder climates," meaning parts of Europe that are further north than most of the UK. ®

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