Almost three-quarters of the electricity used in Finland comes from outside its borders, and as much as 70 percent is imported from Russia. That is a significant amount. With all of its hydro energy already tapped and few domestic alternatives, finding economical ways to heat things like water during Finland's icy winters has been a challenge.
Russia's top Web company, Yandex, has come up with a provocative answer: Use the heat generated by the company's data center to heat hot water for a nearby town's district water system.
The town of Mäntsälä, dubbed the "crossroads of Finland," lies about an hour north of the capitol, Helsinki, and has in recent years become an attractive hub for Finland's industrial sector. One of those companies is Yandex, which believes the design of its new data center can have an instrumental role in heat recovery for the town's water district.
Yandex's CEO, Yuri Kurvi, believes the project will not only benefit the town's 20,000 residents and the local utility company, Mäntsälän Sähkö OY, but the data center as well.
"This is better than a win-win situation," Kurvi said."It's a jackpot."
The idea is provocative because recovered heat from data centers is often only about 80 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn't hot enough to heat water for commercial purposes. But Kurvi said with the additional use of heat pumps to boost the temperature and fans to push the heated air outside, the system can increase the water temperature. Best of all, he told DataCenterDynamics, because of the facility's design, the water recovery process happens outside of the data center, so there is no need for alterations to the data center to accommodate the recovery process.
"[Because] it is in our outgoing air stream, it doesn't have any effect on any design" or process within the data center, said Kurvi, who said that although running auxiliary fans will lower the power usage efficiency (PUE) ratio a tiny bit, "total energy wise, we gain so much that the PUE value isn't an important characteristic."
The project is expected to reduce heating costs for the town's residents by 5 percent and cut the utility company's costs by half. It also fits nicely under the mandates of the Kyoto Protocol, of which Finland is a signatory.
Kurvi is also challenging other data centers to explore ways to implement heat recovery systems -- suggesting that it will increase, not take away from, power usage efficiency. Both Telecity Paris and Telehouse West in London are experimenting with selling recovered heat for heating homes.
At the present time, the first of four construction phases is operational in Mäntsälä. Three more units are due to be completed soon, and once they are, the district water system will be able to transition away from its conventional natural gas heating system and rely on the data center's recovered heat for a fraction of the previous overhead.
Image credit: Wikimedia
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.