Sustainability-in-Tech : London Data Centres To Heat New Homes

15th November 2023

A new £36 million UK government project is to use data centre waste heat to provide heating and hot water to 10,000 new homes and 250,000 square metres of commercial space in London.

Using Heat From Data Centres 

Data centres in our digital society and cloud-based business world now play a crucial role in supporting countless industries, businesses and services. However, the increasing demands upon them mean that getting enough power across to them plus finding ways to provide effective cooling and dealing with the surplus heat generated are two major challenges.

The new project, therefore, will provide a way to re-distribute some of the surplus heat so that it benefits the community, advances sustainability, and supports London’s efforts to reach net zero city by 2030.

Heat Network 

The £36 million funding award will support the commercialisation and construction of a district heat network scheme that is expected to deliver 95GWh of heat across 5 phases between 2026 and 2040.

The Old Oak Development 

The new, major urban brownfield regeneration project has been named ‘The Old Oak Development’ because it includes the Old Oak HS2 and Elizabeth Line interchange areas and will be operated by the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation in the London boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Brent, and Ealing. The Old Oak Development, which covers three London Boroughs, and a brownfield development, and which will create 22,000 new jobs, has been enabled thanks to a wider £65m award from the government’s Green Heat Network Fund (GHNF) to five projects across the UK.

Data Centre Heat Delivered Via Plastic Ambient Network 

The scheme will involve harnessing/recycling the surplus heat from two (as yet unnamed) data centres within the Old Oak/Park Royal area. The data centres will supply ‘low grade’ waste heat (i.e. between 20°C [68°F] and 35°C [95°F] ) via a plastic “ambient” network. The network will supply heat pumps that raise the temperature to Low Temperature Hot Water “LTHW” which will be piped via a traditional steel network to a mixture of new and existing residential buildings.

David Lunts, OPDC’s Chief Executive said of the scheme: “Recycling the massive amounts of wasted heat from our local data centres into heat and energy for local residents, a major hospital and other users is an exciting and innovative example of OPDC’s support for the mayor’s net zero ambitions. 

We are excited to be leading the way in developing low carbon infrastructure, supporting current and future generations of Londoners in Old Oak and Park Royal to live more sustainably.” 

Jo Streeten, Managing Director, Buildings + Places – Europe and India, AECOM re-iterated the importance and benefits of the project, saying: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the new communities emerging within the OPDC area to lead the way in how our cities can operate more sustainably, by using the waste heat sourced from data centres.”  

Previous Data Centre Controversy 

This positive news for homes and business contrasts with reports from July last year that data centres’ huge power demands were putting such acute pressure on the west London grid, that new home-building projects had to be halted because not enough power could be sent to substations, i.e. local data centres were using all the power.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

How to deal with the heat produced by the ever-growing demand on and for new data centres, particularly since generative AI chatbots came along is a significant issue. This project, therefore, is an example of a way to put the heat to good use for the community and businesses rather than wasting it, thereby providing hopefully cheaper and abundant supplies of heat (albeit in a limited area), giving a greener and more sustainable way to heat homes and businesses, plus helping to meet London’s ambitious target to become a net zero city by 2030.

That said, although the local West London data centres can provide surplus heat for the project, as concerns from last year show, their huge energy requirements in the first place is a problem in itself both in how to supply it in a greener way and in the negative impact on local area housing developments, i.e. local data centres using so much power that demand for new home projects can’t be met.

This scheme, however, is one of many new, innovative, and welcome ways around the world to use the surplus heat from data centres for homes and businesses, although tackling the initial issues of how to meet data centres’ enormous power demands with cleaner and more sustainable energy and not just relying on offsetting, and finding effective cooling solutions for data centres remain major challenges.