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New concept aims to create 'energy positive' cities

Norwegian project will use data centre's excess heat to power cities

The Spark Power City data centre will feature a stone core.
The Spark Power City data centre will feature a stone core.

A new concept for data centres could see excess heat provide energy to create ‘energy positive' cities.

The concept, which is currently undergoing testing in Norway, will use excess heat from data centres to power district cooling and to funnel cooled water back into the data centre to cool equipment.

The project could provide energy to a city of up to 18,000 people from a 2MW, 200 rack data centre.

Real estate developer MIRIS is driving The Spark Power City Initiative, in close co-operation with architecture and design practice Snøhetta, construction company Skanska, engineering and design consultancy Asplan Viak and Nokia.

The model will see data centres placed in city centres, with high energy consuming facilities placed nearby and housing further out.

The project is being piloted in the municipality of Os, outside of Bergen. The municipality aims to become the first ever positive energy city.

"Today, data centres are often remotely placed, and the excess heat produced is just wasted. We took a different approach to these centres and thought, why not place them in the middle of the city, allowing them to provide energy to the surrounding buildings," said Jan Gunnar Mathisen, CEO of MIRIS.

"We have developed a cyclical energy concept. By cyclical, we mean that the heat generated from the data centre, is looped through the city, before it is brought back to the centre. This system allows us to heat the buildings in the city, but also to cool down the centre towards the end of the cycle. This way we can maximize the utilization from beginning to end," added Elin Vatn at Snøhetta.

The data centre itself will also be as sustainable as possible. Following the Powerhouse standard, this entails using low-impact materials such as wood, rather than steel and concrete. However, since data centres are subject to stringent fire regulations, steel cannot be avoided completely. The data centre's core will be made from local stone, allowing for aesthetic variations that adapt to the local context of the building.

The data centre is intended to be energy positive, meaning that during a 60-year period, will generate more renewable energy than the total amount of energy that would be required to sustain daily operations and to build, produce materials and demolish the building.