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For this Microsoft facility, a synergy over energy
Data center-generated heat that's usually wasted set to warm Finnish homes.
(A native of England, Matthew Diebel is a veteran journalist who has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations. Having spent his childhood next to one of the world's fastest bodies of water, he is particularly interested in tidal energy.)
This week, the average nighttime temperatures in the Finnish municipalities of Espoo, Kauniainen and Kirkkonummi are forecast to range from 21°F. to 32°F. In other words, frigid.
Brrrr! So, who’s coming to the rescue? None other than Microsoft (MSFT), which is collaborating with state-owned energy provider Fortum (FOJCY) to funnel heat from its new data centers in the Helsinki area to heat local homes and businesses, according to press releases from both companies.
Data centers, which are often situated near sources of cheap energy — such as the computer giant’s 800,000 square-foot Columbia facility near the Grand Coulee Dam in Quincy, Wash. — throw out massive amounts of heat as they process cloud computing and other functions. But it usually goes to waste, just as excess methane gas is flared from oil wells.
But Microsoft’s Finnish operation has been able to take advantage of an unusual resource: that nation’s network of insulated underground pipes that transfer heat to customers. In this case, Fortum owns 560 miles of piping that supplies heat to about a quarter million customers, some of it from renewables and some from fossil fuels — and Microsoft is building its facilities to connect to them.
“Sometimes the most sustainable solutions are simple ones,” said Markus Rauramo, president and CEO of Fortum.
Once the new data centers’ waste heat capture is in operation, a total of about 60% of the area’s heating will be generated by climate-friendly waste heat. Of this, 40% will be from the data centers and the rest from other waste heat sources such as purified waste water.
“We are incredibly proud of the novel way this datacenter will sustainably power Finnish digital transformation, while also heating Finnish homes and businesses and helping cities achieve their emissions targets,” said Cindy Rose, president of Microsoft Western Europe.
And so she should be (and Rauramo, too).