Microsoft to use waste heat from data centres to warm homes

Microsoft has announced plans to 'recycle' excess heat generated by a new data centre hub it is planning in Helsinki, Finland, by using it to serve a major district heating network.

Microsoft to use waste heat from data centres to warm homes

Espoo (pictured) is among the locations served by the existing district heating infrastructure

The business has partnered with energy generation and infrastructure company Fortum to plan and deliver the project, as Fortum already operates a district heating network consisting of 900km of pipes that serve spme 250,000 homes across Espoo, Kauniainen and Kirkkonummi.

Heat generated at the data centre hub, which Microsoft announced plans for late last week, will be used to serve this district heating network. As Microsoft will procure only renewable electricity for powering the data centres’ operations, sourced through power purchase agreements (PPAs), Fortum is badging the heat as “clean”.

Fortum currently serves the district heating network with a mix of energy sources, including biomass and incinerated waste. The partnership with Microsoft will assist the business in keeping supply level with demand as it brings its last coal-fired heat unit, in Espoo, offline. Espoo is notably targeting an 80% reduction in emissions by 2030, against a 1990 baseline, as part of plans to reach carbon neutrality.

While other businesses including Facebook have entered into agreements to use waste heat from data centres in district heating networks before, Microsoft believes its work with Fortum is the largest project of its kind.

As well as working on the district heat network, Microsoft has outlined plans to ensure that the data centre hub is set up to self-generate clean energy and that it is equipped with independent, low-carbon cooling.  

“We are incredibly proud of the novel way this data centre will sustainably power Finnish digital transformation, while also heating Finnish homes and businesses and helping cities achieve their emissions targets,” said Microsoft Western Europe’s president Cindy Rose, adding that learnings from the project will “transform  the design thinking of data centres of the future.”  

Microsoft has not yet stated when the data centre is likely to come online. It still needs to pass through all of the necessary planning stages.

A district heat network powered in full or in part by waste heat from businesses including data centre operators is notably in the works for the UK, also. Vattenfall announced plans for a project spanning up to 500,000 homes across four London boroughs last September.

Sarah George

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