Globally, data centers are estimated to account for 1 to 2% of electricity usage. The percentage is higher in Europe, where data centers there consumed 104 TWh of electricity in 2020 — about 3% of all the electricity consumed within the EU. Those data centers create a lot of waste heat. Some of it could be repurposed to help heat homes and businesses in Europe, where many cities have district heating systems, but until recently, the economics of doing so just haven’t penciled out. The energy emergency created by Russia’s assault on Ukraine has altered the financial calculus, however. Today, interest in harvesting excess heat from data centers is very much on the mind of many municipalities.
After years of discussions about putting residual heat to work rather than simply venting it to the outdoors, more waste heat recapture projects are becoming a reality, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall, story via E-Trade news). In the last year, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft have started connecting, or announced plans to connect, major data centers to district heating systems in Ireland, Denmark, and Finland. Alphabet says it is assessing opportunities to recover heat from its data centers across Europe.