Microsoft data centres help heat homes

When it comes to sustainability, Microsoft is taking it to a new level with its 2 newest planned data centres in Helsinki, Finland. Excess heat generated by these data centres will be funnelled off into a district heating system, helping to heat the homes of up to 250,000 people. What’s more, the 2 new data centres, which will draw up to 400–500 GWh of energy each year, will be 100% powered by renewable energy sources. 

How did this come about? 

The sustainable drive behind Microsoft’s Helsinki data centres wasn’t an afterthought. It was a deliberate move from the very start. When scoping out locations for the data centres, they selected the Helsinki metropolitan area specifically because the heat generated by cooling the data centres could be recycled into the district heating system. 

This project was realised in collaboration with the Finnish utility business Fortnum. However, it is part of Microsoft’s bigger global Cloud complex project, which will see over 200 data centres dedicated to providing Cloud services to individuals, businesses and the public sector. 

What is district heating?

District heating is a common type of heating across Finland and involves pumping hot water through insulated underground pipes. Originally, water was heated using fossil fuels. Today, a mix of heat sources is used, including fossil fuels, biomass and incinerated waste.

With the new Fortnum-Microsoft initiative, around 40% of the heat that supplies Fortnum’s district heating system, which serves Espoo, Kauniainen and Kirkkonummi, will be provided by Microsoft’s data centres. This marks a substantial shift towards sustainable heating or “clean heating” as Fortnum dubs it. In fact, Fortnum suggests the initiative will slash CO2 emissions by around 400,000 tonnes every year. 

The future of data centre design

As Microsoft Western Europe President Cindy Rose put it, insights from the Helsinki data centre project could “transform the design thinking of data centres of the future”. 

That future seems to already be here, with the likes of Facebook and Amazon Web Services both making plans to use excess heat from data centres to power district heating systems. 

Microsoft is, therefore, just the latest to join in but is making a splash as the Helsinki project with Fortnum is thought to be the largest project in this growing sector. 


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