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Waste Heat From Microsoft Servers to Warm Residents in Southern Finland

Fortum and Microsoft collaborate
(Image credit: Fortum)

Microsoft has announced a major new data center in Finland. As welcome as that news alone might be, with the expected 11,000 new jobs, the project will also provide district heating for a large swathe of southern Finland. Finnish broadcaster and news provider YLE highlights that Microsoft's collaboration with energy company Fortum will also create the "world's largest waste heat recovery project for data centers."

Finland's biggest energy company, the majority-state-owned Fortum, has been looking for a data center partner for the last four years. In choosing a partner, Fortum didn't just consider the core computing functionality of a very large data center to accelerate Finland's digital transformation. The chosen partner needed to "be ready to implement climate-friendly solutions on an unprecedented scale," explained Fortum President and CEO, Markus Rauramo. Fortum has now agreed to partner with Microsoft and the pair's impressive plans have been revealed.

On the scale of the investment in this new data center, LYE reports that it is "one of the biggest single ICT investments in Finnish history." Microsoft reckons that the new infrastructure, its upkeep and services will sustain 11,000 new local jobs. Moreover, such a large project usually has a positive effect on local businesses. At the very least 11,000 people, many with high skilled roles and a commensurate salary, will be very happy to have nearby food outlets, goods and services.

It is estimated that Microsoft and its ecosystem in Finland will also stimulate the local economy, generating more than 17.2 billion Euros over the next four years.

Lastly, considering the core server business activity of Microsoft in southern Finland, locals will benefit from the fastest loading and latency times when using Microsoft's popular cloud services (and perhaps great PC and Xbox cloud gaming too).

Waste Heat Isn't Wasted in Finland

Circling back to our headlining topic - the substantial new Microsoft data center is going to generate a lot of waste heat, such is the nature of high performance computing in 2022. Microsoft and Fortum will power the new data center using emission free electricity, and better than that, waste heat is going to be directed to warm the homes of hundreds of thousands of local residents.

LYE reports that the data center will contribute to the heating across a large part of southern Finland, specifically district heating users in Espoo, Kauniainen and Kirkkonummi. Checking the size of this region, it is approximately a 30 minute drive from one side to the other, so covers a substantial area.

Figures shared by Fortum indicate that the waste heat from the Microsoft servers will cover 40% of the heating needs of 250,000 customers in the region. Later on, when the Microsoft data center is fully commissioned, and other heated local wastewater joins the energy recycling scheme, it is estimated that waste heating output will cover 60% of the heating needs in the area.

Microsoft and Fortum's collaboration will result in the reduction of about 400,000 tons of CO2 emissions per annum.

Mark Tyson
Mark Tyson

Mark Tyson is a Freelance News Writer at Tom's Hardware US. He enjoys covering the full breadth of PC tech; from business and semiconductor design to products approaching the edge of reason.

  • pixelpusher220
    11,000 workers for a single data center (and services)? no idea but that seems like a pretty high number or perhaps a very big data center?
    Reply
  • King_V
    My exasperated response is "Why the hell isn't this kind of thing done more commonly?"
    Reply
  • pixelpusher220
    King_V said:
    My exasperated response is "Why the hell isn't this kind of thing done more commonly?"

    Only going to work with large apartment/condo type facilities I think. And maybe even new construction only. Retrofitting existing dwellings would seem cost prohibitive.

    That said, I've seen old eastern bloc cities that had central steam heat for the entire city center. Even think Chicago might have something like that in the sky scrapers.
    Reply
  • Co BIY
    In Scandinavia steam heat is a more common utility available to large areas because the heat demand is large and is for much more of the year. "Finland has over 15,000 kilometers of district heating pipelines."

    Finland is also a leader in Nuclear power bringing a new plant on this year with plans to get to 60% of their power from Nuclear. That allows for a very favorable CO2 scoring for this datacenter. In fact you can probably double count the CO2 savings (once on production and second on reuse. ).


    Finland is innovative in the incentives space as well.
    "The new law further enhances Finland's tax-friendly business environment, offering companies a 150% tax deduction for joint R&D projects during 2021-2025. This means that companies get an additional tax deduction of 50% (on top of the usual 100% deduction) on the costs of research and innovation projects carried out in collaboration with universities and research institutes."

    https://www.businessfinland.fi/en/whats-new/news/invest-in-finland/2019/finland-plans-energy-tax-cut-for-data-centers
    Reply
  • exploding_psu
    The fact that you can power computers using electricity that does not come from emissions-producing process is astonishing.
    It sounds like fairy tale to me.
    Reply
  • pixelpusher220
    exploding_psu said:
    The fact that you can power computers using electricity that does not come from emissions-producing process is astonishing.
    It sounds like fairy tale to me.
    perhaps I'm missing the sarcasm...

    Windmills are hundreds if not thousands of years old. Simply attaching wires and magnets produces electricity.

    Sunlight can boil water creating steam can drive windmill/turbines.
    Reply
  • watzupken
    exploding_psu said:
    The fact that you can power computers using electricity that does not come from emissions-producing process is astonishing.
    It sounds like fairy tale to me.
    I think if you take a step back and think about what “emission free“ means, I think you will be disappointed. Let’s take wind and light as example, since they are commonly used. While it is true that wind and solar are “emission free” at the point of usage, the process of producing and maintaining windmills and solar panels is certainly not emission free. You need lots of power upfront to manufacturer them in factories. The same goes for nuclear power plants. Assuming one day that we really run out of fossil fuels, these supposed “self sustaining” power generating methods may fail to sustain itself. This will be the ultimate test if the claim of “sustainable energy” is indeed true.
    Reply
  • exploding_psu
    pixelpusher220 said:
    perhaps I'm missing the sarcasm...

    Windmills are hundreds if not thousands of years old. Simply attaching wires and magnets produces electricity.

    Sunlight can boil water creating steam can drive windmill/turbines.

    Not a sarcasm, legit I really mean it. Where I live power is supplied by coal-fired power plants, and has been since forever. For my entire life I pretty much always thought electricity = huge smoke and some ash.

    Seeing large-scale electricity being generated without any visible emission is so unreal to me.
    Reply
  • King_V
    watzupken said:
    I think if you take a step back and think about what “emission free“ means, I think you will be disappointed. Let’s take wind and light as example, since they are commonly used. While it is true that wind and solar are “emission free” at the point of usage, the process of producing and maintaining windmills and solar panels is certainly not emission free. You need lots of power upfront to manufacturer them in factories. The same goes for nuclear power plants. Assuming one day that we really run out of fossil fuels, these supposed “self sustaining” power generating methods may fail to sustain itself. This will be the ultimate test if the claim of “sustainable energy” is indeed true.
    Wait . . I'm unclear on something . . am I reading this wrong, or are you saying that fossil fuels are and always will be required to manufacture and maintain non-fossil-fuel power producing equipment (windmills, solar panels, etc)?

    If that's what you're saying, then why?

    (If that's not what you're saying, then I very clearly need some caffeine)
    Reply
  • Eximo
    There are alternatives to fossil fuels. You can make hydrocarbons from many sources and use those to make petrochemicals and additives.

    There might be some argument to be made at how inefficient such processes would be, but they would still be viable.

    Solar powered mining equipment to extract raw materials, solar powered arc smelters for refine materials, solar powered CO2 extractors to create simple hydrocarbons, engineered bacteria for more complex hydrocarbons. Which you will need for a lot of chemical reactions to make modern technology. Just need a lot more square area to do the job. Basically instead of using minimal energy to extract and then burn energy that was stored a long time ago by plants.

    There is also some concern in absorbing too much solar energy rather then letting it bounce back out. But there are solutions to that if we really had to. Such as large orbital sun shades.
    Reply