- Or, how to heat your home by surfing the internet.
Quick, what’s the biggest problem facing data centers and internet servers? If you answered hackers or data corruption, you’re wrong.
It’s heat. Anyone who’s ever played a high-end video game or run demanding applications knows that hard-working computers can run really, really hot.
The devices need cooling, but that can cost a fortune. So how do you keep those blazing servers cool without breaking the bank?
A UK leisure center came up with a novel solution. They turned their data center into a water heater for their swimming pool.
The public pool at Exmouth Leisure Center now stays warm with the residual heat emanating from their data center. Putting the waste heat into good use keeps swimmers comfortable — and saves the leisure center thousands of dollars in energy costs.
Really, the whole thing just makes sense. The pool needs heating and the servers need cooling, so why not kill two birds with one stone?
Now this is an environmentally and financially sensible solution.
A Double Problem
The “digital water heater” — as Exmouth Leisure Center calls its system — solves two problems that are both slowly getting out of hand. First is the immense amount of heat that data centers put out.
According to Mark Bjornsgaard, CEO of tech firm Deep Green, up to 97% of the electricity that goes into a computer system comes back out as heat. Any computer, even your small laptop, is essentially a glorified space heater.
With nowhere to go, the computer simply spits the heat out into the ambient air. A powerful computer might be nice to have on a cold day, but otherwise, it only wastes more money by working your AC harder.
And then there’s an issue with heating swimming pools. Keeping the water balmy guzzles up a lot of energy.
Unfortunately, energy prices are skyrocketing across the globe. For Exmought Leisure Center, that’s a big problem.
Sean Day, the leisure center’s manager, told BBC that he expects the center’s energy costs to grow by more than $120,000 this year alone.
Exmouth Leisure Center isn’t facing this problem alone. According to the BBC, 65 swimming pools around the U.K. have closed permanently since 2019.
So Simple It’s Stupid
To solve both of these issues, Exmouth Leisure Center teamed up with Deep Green. The system they came up with is so simple that it feels kind of ridiculous.
Deep Green encased the server system in a roughly laundry-machine-sized sealed box. Then, they set up a system to pump the box full of mineral oil.
The oil doesn’t harm the computer components, so the leisure center doesn’t need to worry about its servers short-circuiting. But the oil does suck up the heat from the computer system extremely well.
After the oil has heated up, it needs cooling. Pumps move the warm oil out of the “laundry machine” and pump it into a heat exchanger attached to the pool.
There, the heat from the oil transfers into the pool water. Finally, the now-cool oil heads back into the data center for another round.
This system keeps Exmouth Leisure Center’s pool at a comfortable 86 degrees about 60% of the time. The solution has slashed the pool’s natural gas consumption by 62% since the normal gas heater only needs to run occasionally.
As a result, the leisure center saves nearly $25,000 a year. That goes a long way towards keeping the light on — and the pool warm — at the center.
Not the Only One
Exmouth Leisure Center isn’t by any means the only facility that has made its data centers run double-duty as heaters. It seems European countries are all aboard in making use of servers’ wasted heat.
On the basic end, one Dutch data center operator has completely replaced its natural gas heating. The company’s facilities now stay warm with the heat its bread-and-butter computers spew out.
In Denmark, on the other hand, a data center near the city of Odense hosts video files for social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and more. The heat the servers put out heats water for Odense, providing residential heat and warm tap water to the city.
Just by streaming videos, internet users worldwide are helping keep Odense’s taps and radiators running hot. At the same time, they’re saving valuable resources for better uses.