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Exporting data centre heat to local heat networks

As we recently reported, there are a number of ways in which the huge amount of heat generated by data centres can be repurposed. In that most recent example, it was to warm 10,000 new London homes through a local heat network.

Heat networks currently provide about 3% of total UK heat and the government believe this could rise to around 20% by 2050.

Network Servers on an Enclosure

Following a consultation on heat network zoning the government is preparing to introduce a regulatory framework which will identify specific areas as heat network zones – where heat networks are deemed to be the lowest cost solution for decarbonising heating – and enable heat networks to be developed within them.

In advance of this, trade association techUK have published a report examining the opportunities, barriers, and successes of reusing data centre residual heat.

Challenges cited include the variability of seasonal demand and the proximity of heat networks to the data centres. It would also be difficult to guarantee the amount of heat generated as data centres do not necessarily run at full capacity all the time, while new data centres might take years to reach capacity. Furthermore hardware manufacturers are constantly looking at ways to minimise the amount of heat generated.

techUK has also submitted its response to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) consultation which, among other things, calls for additional guidance on pricing agreements between heat network developers and heat sources and a clear set of realistic guidelines that are consistent for data centres in different zones in England, ‘providing direction but also allowing for a degree of flexibility due to variations in technologies applied and different commercial models.’

Dave Smith, Director, Sustainability and Operational Risk Digital Realty said: ‘Residual heat energy reuse isn’t just efficient from a circular energy perspective — where appropriate, it’s a way for data centres to give back to the communities where they operate, creating a sustainable cycle of energy and goodwill. As the backbone of our digital economy, data centres have the potential to play a crucial role in securing a greener future for all.’

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