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Heated by Hard Drives: Urban Heating in Marne-La-Vallée,...

Heated by Hard Drives: Urban Heating in Marne-La-Vallée, Seine-et-Marne, France

Until now, heat given off by data centers* was simply carried off into the air by means of various climate control systems. But in the past few years, inspired by Cherbourg, a city heated by seawater, initiatives for collecting and reusing of these calories have been established in order to provide heating for housing, offices,

A data center in the United Kingdom.

Until now, heat given off by data centers* was simply carried off into the air by means of various climate control systems. But in the past few years, inspired by Cherbourg, a city heated by seawater, initiatives for collecting and reusing of these calories have been established in order to provide heating for housing, offices, factories, swimming pools, and even greenhouses.

  • In Amsterdam, Netherlands, a university has access to free hot water coming from the Equinix data center located on the university campus;

  • In Roubaix, Nord-pas-de-Calais, France, the five data centers of OVH, France’s leading web hosting service, heat the business’ offices as well as several neighboring firms;

  • The data center of British service provider Global Switch also services a tropical greenhouse dedicated to providing flowers for the city of Clichy, Haut-de-Seine, France;

  • Another example: in Uitikon, Switzerland, a public swimming pool is heated by an IBM data center.

The Largest Experiment in Europe is Happening in France

A sign denoting Marne-la-Vallée and the Disneyland Park

The largest experiment in Europe is taking place quite close to the Eurodisney amusement park, in a developing zone with an expected surface area of 180 hectares (eighty of which are currently constructed) in the Val d’Europe business park in Marne-La-Vallée, Seine-et-Marne. Since September 2011, heat emitted by the data center belonging to Natixis bank has been harnessed to provide a network for urban heating. As its end result, this system makes water circulate at 55°C in a four kilometer long network of pipes connected to different buildings. How? The hot water from climate control condensers is collected by thermal exchangers, then distributed into the network through an energy-producing power station.

As of now, an aquatic center and a botanical nursery belonging to some fifteen businesses are connected to it.

5,400 Metric Tons of CO2 Saved

Over time, the data center will provide twenty-six million kilowatt-hours every year, and will be able to furnish heating and sanitary hot water to 600,000 square meters of buildings, making for an annual savings of 5,400 metric tons of CO2 waste, the equivalent to the emissions produced by 5,000 cars in a year.

Unlike other experiments carried out on a small-scale elsewhere in Europe, this heating is not free, and costs clients eight cents for every kWh, amounting to a lower price than electric heating, but a bit higher than a gas or oil installation.

It should be noted that this energy is low-carbon, and its price will not increase more than inflation, contrary to gas.

*On a European-wide scale, the Commission estimates that in 2008, data centers consumed fifty-six billion kilowatts, half of which were used to cool the buildings.

Are these types of eco-friendly solutions likely to appear in other cities in the near future, or is it too early to expect more instances of harnessing existing technologies and infrastructure to promote sustainability?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Intern photo

Marcus Khoury is a recent graduate of the University of California Los Angeles, where he obtained a B.A. in French & Francophone Studies. Aside from his native Michigan, Marcus has lived in several states, in addition to France and Chile. Owing...

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