By: Susan Kraemer
Helsinki is pioneering the worlds most advanced municipal heating system. A century ago, New York City put in an early form of this kind of district heating: the steam that gasps from ancient downtown loft radiators in the middle of winter nights is the remaining evidence.
But that was before the computer age. A new twist on district heating is being pioneered by Finland in its capital city, Helsinki.
Excess heat from hundreds of computer servers in a new underground data center will be captured and pumped to heat hundreds of homes and businesses throughout the city.
Like many European cities, (how do you think they achieved their 13% below 1990 levels of greenhouse gases) Helsinki already uses district heating so its residents don’t risk freezing to death in its minus 30 Centigrade winters.
Water is heated centrally at combined heat and power (CHP) plants that supply both electricity and heat, to heat water to 115 degrees C, and pipe it directly to tens of thousands of nearby apartments and public buildings.
But now, data centers comprise a new and growing opportunity for a lucrative new green business development there, as more and more data is stored and backed-up several times online. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions from data centers powered by fossil fuels are rising by 10% a year.
With the rise of cloud computing, more energy is needed to cool data centers, and more heat created by them must be siphoned off. At this point, in the UK for example, cloud computing now uses 3% of all the electricity generated in Britain.
Beginning this April, a pilot program will be fueled by waste heat generated by the Academica data center under the city. The data center will be cooled using seawater from the Baltic, which falls below 8C from November to May, with the excess heat pumped back into the city's district heating system.