Jakob Jul Jensen head of business development, data center vertical at Danfoss, explains that we should use the excess heat generated by data centers to make waste heat reuse economically advantageous for all involved.
- To respond to the ongoing rapid digital growth, there will continue to be a significant need for new data centers to be built, thus increasing energy use and emissions.
- The concern regarding energy consumption and emissions also involves a careful examination of energy usage within regions that host them.
- Excess heat is the world’s largest untapped source of energy, meaning it is one of the largest potentials for Europe’s data centers.
Data has become the foundation of today’s global digital economy, facilitating the flow of information in major cities, as well as supporting the ever-increasing pace of digital environments across our globe. The backbone behind this digital development is data centers which currently represent around 1.5% of global electricity use.
With AI, applications such as ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, as well as computerized trading, self-driving vehicles, 5G mobile networks and streaming services, data center energy use has the potential to grow substantially. Just one AI model, for example, can consume tens of thousands of kilowatt-hours over the course of only a few days. To put this in perspective, the average US household consumes 11,000 KWh for a whole year.
To respond to this rapid digital growth, there will continue to be a significant need for new data centers to be built, thus increasing energy use and emissions. Estimates suggest that more than 3,000 new sites will be needed in Europe by the middle of the decade to meet the expected requirements for data storage and processing.
Balancing the energy usage of data centers
While much great work has already been done to optimize the power usage effectiveness of data centers, this positive development has plateaued over the past decade. And as they grow in scale, there will be a need to balance their energy usage.
The concern regarding energy consumption and emissions also involves a careful examination of energy usage within regions with dense clusters of data centers. They are often strategically located in concentrated areas, leading to larger energy consumption levels in certain cities and regions than in others.
Take the Republic of Ireland for example, where the amount of electricity being used by data centers has risen by 400% since 2015. They accounted for almost a fifth of all electricity used in Ireland in 2022, which was as much as was used by all households in the country’s urban areas.
In Northern Virginia, US, a region considered to be the world’s largest data center market with nearly 300 facilities, it has been reported that more than 20% of electricity supplied by Dominion Energy is used for data centers alone. The importance of balancing energy usage will only increase in significance as they continue to scale up.
The power of partnership
Data center operators have already started to proactively address this trend, but we need to speed things up and work in partnerships across borders and industries to tackle the challenge. We must revolutionize how we build data centers and put energy efficiency at the heart of their construction.
As one of the founding companies that recently launched the Pan-European Net Zero Innovation Hub For Data Centers, we recognize the power of partnership. The technologies to increase energy efficiency in data centers exist today, but no one company or organization can do it alone. We must work together to boost efficiency, increase resilience and reduce emissions from data centers – while making a strong business case. The Net Zero Innovation Hub is a neutral meeting place where players across industries can collaborate to build better and more sustainably.
One of the first projects which the Innovation Hub could work on is to identify solutions and create a blueprint for communities to use the excess heat generated by data centers to make waste heat reuse economically advantageous for all stakeholders.
The world’s largest untapped source of energy: excess heat
Excess heat is the world’s largest untapped source of energy, meaning it is one of the largest potentials for data centers across Europe. Excess heat in the EU alone amounts to 2,860 TWh per year, corresponding almost to the EU’s total energy demand for heat and hot water in residential and service sector buildings.
Conservative estimates from 2020 counted 1,269 data centers across the EU and UK, for a total of 95 TWh of accessible excess heat yearly. In Germany it has been estimated that the waste heat from the data centers in Frankfurt could, by the year 2030, cover the city’s entire heat demand stemming from private households and office buildings.
Ensuring communities can tap into the excess heat generated by data centers is crucial. In our pursuit of a more sustainable future, we must forge innovative solutions that not only propel the green transition of data centers forward but also prove economically advantageous. The capabilities and technologies necessary for achieving this transformation already exist; the challenge lies in orchestrating the right combination of business cases and regulatory frameworks to deliver their implementation.
Imagine this endeavor as assembling a complex jigsaw puzzle. Each stakeholder holds a distinct piece of this puzzle. These pieces represent diverse resources, expertise, and perspectives that collectively constitute the holistic solution. It is only when we collaborate that we can form a coherent and sustainable solution for our future in the context of data centers.
The opinions of guest authors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of SG Voice.