Stijn Grove, Managing Director of the Dutch Data Center Association, looks at how data centres, despite becoming increasingly efficient, can go a step further and contribute ‘waste heat’ into the wider community
In the data centre industry, energy efficiency is a highly valued factor. In the past 20 years, those in the industry have developed an extensive foundation of knowledge, technology and operational strategies that have helped the digital economy become increasingly energy efficient.
In the Netherlands, almost all – 95% – of data centres that cover more than 1000 sq. metres, are ‘green’, meaning they work using renewable energy.
Though these developments are certainly positive, Grove states that energy efficiency and the complete use of green energy is ‘not enough.’ For the last few years, there has been a focus on the by-product of data centres – heat.
Reusing waste heat
Grove notes that nearly 90% of the electrical energy that is used in data centres is converted into heat. This heat, he says, is reusable. Calculations have found that this ‘waste’ heat has the potential to warm millions of households each year. As an industry, steps have already been taken towards accelerating this process, and the transition from the current mindset to one which encourages the reuse of this waste heat.
The Dutch are looking to lead this effort. Grove argues that the Netherlands is a world-class data hub, and as such he and his compatriots are looking to initiate and accelerate the process of making use of waste heat. They have started this by offering waste heat, free of charge, to the Dutch government.
It’s not easy being green – but it is the only way forward
He and his organisation, the Dutch Data Center Association, have made a call to action, urging all relevant stakeholders to consider the use of waste heat a priority item on their agenda.
Though the potential benefits are enormous, there are also many challenges. At the most basic level, the process requires that more heat networks be built, ideally low caloric. Aside from issues with supply, demand problems need to be addressed.
Grove hopes to initiate demand through incentivisation, which may need to happen through new legislation. Only once these things have happened, he argues, will it be possible for governments and data centre providers to ‘cross the threshold.’ As Grove notes, perhaps channelling his inner Muppet – it’s not easy being green. It is, however, ‘the only way forward.’
Collaboration is often key in the modern technology industry. With an issue like waste heat, where the rewards are not merely monetary but could extend to a large societal greater good, this is even truer.
As such, for data centre operators that are looking to start waste heat reuse initiatives, Grove’s major piece of advice is to collaborate and share. First, he argues, they should share the knowledge of what they do in terms of sustainability. The Netherlands already has a way of doing this – the Green Data Center Platform, where companies can share practices.
The platform is set up in English and becoming an endorser is free of charge. As well as this, Grove helped to set up a conference on the matter. This, he states, is because the data centre community at large is ‘all in this together.’
The broader impact
Environmental concerns are generally agreed to be one of the defining issues of our age. It is everyone’s responsibility, and Grove argues that ‘we all need to further improve all our energy efficiency policies in order to meet the goals of the Paris climate accords.’
The Netherlands finds itself at the forefront of this movement. Data centres connected to heat networks are already a reality in several places in the country, and initiatives such as the Green Data Center Platform help both raise awareness as well as educating others on how to achieve their green goals.
The data centre industry is at the forefront of digital transformation, renewable energy, and ‘energy transition.’ Despite appearing somewhat narrow, these all have the potential to have a broad impact and change lives. Grove believes it is the industry’s ‘moment to shine’ – hoping that the data centre sector can show the world what it is capable of, and lead the way into a better future.