Data Center Dynamics
Summary of an Article Written by IDEA President & CEO, Rob Thornton
Data centers are the engine of our innovation economy - they power the cloud infrastructure we rely on every day and will be central to our computing needs for many years to come as they provide critical support for the cloud and emerging technologies including generative AI.
Those technologies also require huge amounts of energy - much of it employed to cool the servers, processors, and other equipment. According to recent research, about 40 percent of a data center’s total energy use is for cooling. Excess heat is released into the atmosphere through cooling towers or evaporative condensers, literally throwing heat away. In a 300,000 square foot data center with 12,000 racks, annual cooling costs could be between $5 and $10 million per year, depending on location and technologies.
Innovation in this space is emerging from the private sector. Major corporations are employing these strategies in the US, including Amazon - one of the world’s largest operators of data centers and one of the pioneers of cloud computing. In 2017, Amazon developed a heat recovery system at its corporate headquarters in Seattle, as part of the company’s wider strategy to meet its net-zero goals.
The Amazon building in downtown Seattle houses a central plant that services a district system, and is located across the street from a data center. The Amazon data center provides up to 5 MW of excess heat to supply Amazon’s district energy system meeting the annual space heating and process hot water needs for about four million square feet of space.
Using heat recovered from data centers in a district energy system provides a reliable, cost-effective source of energy that can benefit both the data center operator and nearby building owners.
While district energy systems have been part of the energy landscape for over 140 years, the connection to renewable sources like waste heat recovery, demonstrates how district energy systems can also play a pivotal role in the energy transition to a decarbonized, net-zero future.