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How Data Centres May Hold the Key to Creating a Sustainable City in the Digital Era

By District Energy posted 06-22-2020 13:17




Stockholm Data Parks (SDP) represents an advanced infrastructure offering to the data centre industry; a partnership between it, district heating/cooling provider Stockholm Exergi, electricity distributor Ellevio, dark fibre provider Stokab and the City of Stockholm. Collectively driven by a vision of creating a sustainable, waste-free city that’s entirely free of fossil fuels by 2040, SDP’s contribution lies in the unique opportunity presented by the rapidly expanding data centre sector. Focused on making Stockholm as attractive to the industry as possible, the initiative believes that the waste heat expended by data centres may hold the key to making the city a beacon of sustainability.

Erik Rylander, Head of SDP, knows the energy sector well and put his insights to good use when the idea was first launched. “My career has been a mixture of very different fields within energy and it has been mostly centred on heating and cooling, but also gas. With SDP, we really took the initiative to make the data center industry more sustainable.” Although heat recovery is now widely accepted by the European industry, this was not always the case. Spotting the opportunity relatively early (circa 2014-15), SDP anticipated the global shift towards the widespread adoption of eco-friendly measures in business, though others were left perplexed. “At that time, the industry was very sceptical,” explains Rylander. “People didn’t really see the need for it; they saw it as a problem and didn't want to start implementing new technology.” Adding to the opposition was a customer base that was seemingly indifferent, and a paucity of environmental initiatives on the global stage.

“Now, it’s really different: many things have happened to help us move into the position we are in. For example, Greenpeace started to publish the Click Clean Report and then the Paris Agreement came around in 2016,” says Rylander. With industry heavyweights like Microsoft now edging towards carbon-negativity and Jeff Bezos of Amazon pledging US$10bn to fight climate change, SDP is truly a pioneer in promoting sustainability schemes that are taking more widespread precedence in 2020.

Also the Head of Open District Heating (ODH) at Stockholm Exergi, Rylander explains that the whole process actually starts with ODH, which provides the business model of the venture. Taking advantage of a 2,800km network of district heating/cooling pipes that snake underground around Stockholm, a scheme was started in 2014 wherein businesses were approached and asked if they were willing to sell their excess/wasted heat energy on a fluctuating price scale (depending on the outside temperature). “If we can buy heat from someone at a price lower than it would have cost to produce it, that’s the real business behind heat recovery: we are saving money and companies will be paid for something that is generally regarded as waste,” Rylander states. By establishing a market for waste heat in Stockholm, ODH is playing an essential part in helping Stockholm reach its goal of using 100% renewable or recovered energy for its district heating by 2030, as well as being totally carbon neutral by 2040. “Currently, we are 90% carbon neutral, so that remaining 10% will need to be offset and one way to do that is to increase the use of heat recovery.”

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