Microsoft is building a new data centre region in Finland that will use the clean heat from its server cooling processes to heat local homes and businesses.
Microsoft and Fortum
The project, which will see Microsoft working in collaboration with local state-owned utility provider Fortum Corporation, requires Microsoft to build a new data centre region in the Helsinki metropolitan area of Finland.
World’s Largest Collaboration To Heat Homes
Fortum has described the recycling project to heat homes, services and businesses with sustainable waste heat from the new data centre region as the “world’s largest collaboration to heat homes”.
100 Per Cent Emission-Free Electricity
The new data centres will 100 provide per cent emission-free electricity and Microsoft’s project partner Fortum will transfer the clean heat from the server cooling process to the homes, services and business premises that are connected to its existing, huge district heating system.
900 km Of Underground Pipes
District heating, which generates and captures heat and distributes it to buildings on a large scale is the most popular method of heating premises in Finland.
The district heating infrastructure to be utilised in the project with Microsoft is the second largest in Finland for heat capture and distribution, with 900 km of underground pipes. These pipes can transfer heat to around 250,000 users in the cities of Espoo and Kauniainen, and the municipality of Kirkkonummi.
Climate-Friendly Waste Heat From Data Centres
It is anticipated that once the new data centre region’s waste heat capture system has been built, 60 per cent of the district’s heating will come from climate-friendly waste heat. Fortum says that 40 per cent of this total will come from the new data centre region.
Cindy Rose, President of Microsoft Western Europe, said about the plans for the project: “We are incredibly proud of the novel way this datacentre will sustainably power Finnish digital transformation, while also heating Finnish homes and businesses and helping cities achieve their emissions targets. In this unique collaboration, Microsoft and Fortum combine their world leading expertise in cloud computing and sustainable energy solutions, transforming the design thinking of datacentres of the future.”
Positive Comments From Finland
There have also been some very positive comments about the project from Finland. For example, Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland said: “The decision to invest in a datacentre region that also provides surplus heat to our cities and homes is a win-win. It will accelerate Finland’s digital growth while making our energy system greener. I also hope that this collaboration can serve as a model to other countries and cities looking to achieve the double transformation of climate neutrality and digital competitiveness.”
What Does This Mean For Your Organisation?
We have heard about the challenges of cooling servers in data centres in the US, e.g. by immersing them in liquid, but this project shows that far from simply removing heat, it could be recycled and used to provide greener energy to homes in businesses. Finland’s existing system of district heating and its large infrastructure of insulated pipes makes it particularly well suited to this new idea. If the project is able, as expected, to provide a large amount of sustainable heating to whole cities, this could serve as a workable example and transform thinking about how datacentres of the future are designed. It could also be used to help reduce reliance upon other less-green sources of heating. There is still, however, the issue of providing power to data centres in the first place, how green this power is, and how much can be offset.