IT – Data centers can do more than digitize

Driving digital transformation is a challenge that truly cannot be put off. However, the best-laid plans are often worthless if unforeseen events occur. The current concern about a shortage of gas, for example, forces a rethinking of the supply of energy and heat and puts this issue in the center of attention. All the better if important social tasks can be meaningfully combined. At the heart of the solution are the data centers, which are already the backbone of digital progress in Germany.

Efficient use of data center waste heat

The digital association Bitkom (Germany), for example, has recently caused a stir with its approach of using waste heat from data centers in Germany for heating and hot water preparation. Connecting data centers directly to public and private district heating networks could both contribute to basic supply and significantly improve the energy balance of the data center industry itself.

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The fact is that the resulting CO2-free heat is currently often discharged into the environment. According to Bitkom President Achim Berg, however, it can be used to supply district heating to municipal facilities such as swimming pools, private homes and even commercial buildings. According to Bitkom’s calculations, the use of waste heat from data centers could power around 350,000 homes per year, which is almost equivalent to the stock in the city-state of Bremen. In total, there are approximately 42.8 million households in Germany.

Large usable waste heat potential

Above all, medium and large data centers with an annual IT connection capacity of more than 5 megawatts generate enough usable waste heat. In Germany, they are mainly found in the regions of Frankfurt/Main, Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. Together they have a connected load of 965 MW. About half of this can be used for true waste heat recovery.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, private households in Germany consume 131 kilowatt hours per square meter per year for heating and hot water. Based on 24 hours and 365 days, 31.9 million square meters could be powered by waste heat from the data center. In the absence of a district heating network, waste heat from data centers could be used to power surrounding buildings.

Data centers are a huge reservoir of flexible network services

But data centers can also support the energy transition in other ways. Indeed, although they are generally considered energy consumers, they are also a largely untapped resource to support grid stability and integrate renewable energy. In Europe, wind and solar power are expected to account for 60% of total electricity generation by 2030. With this growing penetration, there will also be a greater need for flexibility on the grid.

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According to a recent study by BloombergNEF in partnership with Eaton and Statkraft, data centers in Germany, the UK, Ireland, Norway and the Netherlands can provide a total of 16.9 GW of reserve flexibility to the network. electricity thanks to their uninterruptible power supply (UPS), emergency generation and load transfer. This is more than the expected electricity demand of this sector itself, since the resources can in principle provide flexibility to the network independently by reducing electricity consumption or by reinjecting electricity. Among the resources studied, UPS systems seem to be the most promising in terms of flexibility. They are part of the standard equipment in data centers, are battery operated and are therefore particularly well suited for short-term frequency response (FFR).

Conclusion

Data centers can be part of the solution to achieve a higher share of renewable energy in Europe while securing the heat supply in Germany. Their own energy resources, such as uninterruptible power supply and backup generators, could be used to support the grid in the future. They represent unique ecosystems and with their large battery storage capacities they are comparable to microgrids. Therefore, it is essential to exploit the huge untapped potential of these resources to achieve economic and regulatory benefits for the environment and society. (hcn)

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Ramon J. Espinoza