back to article UK throws millions at scheme to heat homes with waste energy from datacenters

The UK government is stumping up £36 million ($41.4 million) to help support a green energy project that aims to use waste heat from a datacenter to keep nearby homes warm. According to the newly formed Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), the scheme will be located in the boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham and …

  1. Mishak Silver badge

    Assumptions

    Whilst this is a good idea in principle, has any consideration been given to what happens if data centres close down or reduce their waste heat due to energy efficiency drives?

    1. Tom Womack

      Re: Assumptions

      This has been a serious problem in Eastern Europe where district heating was provided by coal-fired power stations or by steelworks uneconomic in a global context. On the whole if people stop wanting to host computers in London we have some more serious problems, and replacing servers with electric resistance heaters is an ugly but effective solution. A one-kilowatt resistor costs about £50 compared to a £50,000 Sapphire-Rapids-plus-H100 server.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Assumptions

        If you're buying 1kW resistors to power municipal heating, you might as well put convection heaters directly into people's homes. You can get a 2kW convection heater for less than £30.... and it will be more efficient and cheaper than heating water at a cental location and pumping it round to people's homes.

        1. mikecoppicegreen

          Re: Assumptions

          ... If the electricity network can deliver the power.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Assumptions

            The high temperature superconductors being deployed as part of the national grid upgrade pose an interesting heat recovery opportunity and challenge.

            From reports these when under normal load will operate at temperatures of circa 200C.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Assumptions

              "The high temperature superconductors"

              Are a scam.

              They're ceramic, extremely expensive and VERY fragile. Whilst they exist, they're NOT in any way shape or form suitable for bulk power transmission, nor are they likely to be within the lifespan of anyone currently alive (just like fusion)

              Whilst there have been a number of "product announcements", there have been NO real world tests, let alone rollouts planned

      2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: Assumptions

        by coal-fired power stations or by steelworks uneconomic in a global context.

        They work quite well in China. By uneconomic, of course people often mean, that they provide lower profit margin and if people object to moving them to Asia, you can always invoke climate bogeyman. Then out of sight, out of mind, and if you are an exec, you can then afford yet another Yacht, while the pleb is out of jobs.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          For the moment.

          Chinese coal power stations built since 2003 have a noticeable patch of clear ground (apparently reserved space) adjacent to the steam turbine halls

          It turns out that Molten Salt Reactors putting out sufficient heat to replace coal burners would be about 1/4 the size of those burners

          It also turns out that China's been stockpiling thorium for a while - this has a lot to do with WHY they managed to corner the rare earths market (lower mining costs if they don't have to try and sequester tailings contaiing thorium)

          Hint: TMSR-LF1

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Assumptions

            "It also turns out that China's been stockpiling thorium for a while - this has a lot to do with WHY they managed to corner the rare earths market (lower mining costs if they don't have to try and sequester tailings contaiing thorium)"

            It's the Chinese government that's storing the Thorium rather than requiring the mining concerns (likely also government) from having to deal with what's classified in the West as hazardous nuclear waste. I see this public-private partnership as a very good idea. Western governments will spend outrageous sums of money to prop up businesses (battery factories, semiconductor fabs, Amazon office blocks) when they could do something more proactive and less of things that are blatant favoritism. In the US, where there are also plenty of Lanthanides, if the government contracted to remove Thorium and take it away to be stored at the Nevada Proving Range where there's a slight issue with radioactivity already, there could be rare-earth mining and a way to put some distance between the West and China.

      3. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: Assumptions

        If you have the water based distribution in place, you can always heat the water using any number of current technologies, including fire.

      4. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Assumptions

        Data centres emit very low grade heat and will need a lot of heat pumping to be useful (I looked at repurposing our waste heat and it simply wasn't economically worthwhile, needing the heat pumps to run all the time and driving up energy bills higher than simply continuing to burn diesel/gas for heating

        This has all the hallmarks of greenwashing and/or grandiose plans by those who haven't done the sums, promoted by those who are taking breathless rhetoric of the plan sellers at face value

        That said, if the (very) long overdue MSR nuclear power revolution(*) works out as predicted there will be a LOT of high quality waste heat available from reactors safe enough to put near enough to urban areas to make use of that heat

        (*) Dearly Departed Lester (RIP) was an advocate of them here (thorium powered, but the fuelling is less important than the technology) and China now has TMSR-LF1 operating (the first LFTR MSR power reactor since 1969 and the first one ever to run on thorium). If that experiment and -LF2 & 3 sucessfuly demonstrate scaling as anticipated, nuclear power will become 75% cheaper and undercut all other forms of energy including wind/solar whilst reducing waste by 99% and potentially acting as "nuclear garbage disposals" for existing waste/depleted uranium

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          "potentially acting as "nuclear garbage disposals" for existing waste/depleted uranium"

          Even more exciting could be that since most MSR designs aren't pressurized, cells can be built to produce radioactive Molybdenum for medical applications. It has too short a half-life to extract it from a PWR. I expect there are more things that can be done that nobody has pursued due to the constraints of being able to access the core of a PWR while it's running and for sometime while it cools down.

    2. cyberdemon Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: Assumptions

      > what happens if data centres close down or reduce their waste heat due to energy efficiency drives?

      Is that when the Pope announces that Hell has frozen over?

      Datacentres run flat out 24/7 because otherwise they are not making maximum profit and suffer from asset depreciation.

      The boom in AI of course means there will always be more numbers to crunch, and even at modern prices, energy is cheap compared to the thousands of humans who will be put out of work (sorry I mean "who will not have to work..")

      No, compared to the other wacko greenwash ideas, this one actually does make some sense, depending perhaps on how close the houses are to the datacentre, can they feasibly transport that much lukewarm water to make a difference, and do the datacentre chips actually run hot enough to produce a useful delta T for the houses.

      But even if it is marginal and not a complete solution to house heating or datacentre cooling, it should mean the datacentre doesn't need to run its chillers so much, and the houses don't need to run their boilers so much.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Assumptions

        The hot water provided by my local heating distribution (Potsdam DE area) comes into the house with the pipes too hot to touch - 70 or 80C at a guess - and leaves most of the time not much cooler. I'm not sure how well the heat exchanger would work with lower temperatures - at present it can deliver hot water too hot to use unmixed with cold.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          I'm not sure how well the heat exchanger would work with lower temperatures - at present it can deliver hot water too hot to use unmixed with cold.

          Yep. I've seen warning lables on Icelandic showers where their geothermal heat may get uncomfortably (and sometimes lethally) hot. Or wandered around NYC's utilidors and been forewarned about the dangers of steam leaks, and been forearmed with leak detectors. If the stick you're waving in front of you gets shorter, there's a leak.

          But kinda curious how this will work. Sure, datacentres generate a lot of heat, but don't get that hot. So presumably the DC would need some sort of heat collector to get water hot enough, or generate steam to make some kind of district heating system viable without too much heat loss. And then the cost of installing the heating network, and adapting homes to use the heat. It's something I looked at a while back for a new build estate, using a waste-to-heat plant. As it was a new build, the incremental costs of running heat pipes wasn't so bad given there was already trenching for standard utilities. Homes would just have to sort their rubbish into stuff that burns, and stuff that doesn't.

          But that ran into objections from the council, because it didn't fit their 'recycling strategy', and some loony Greens who objected to burning rubbish. Developers were mostly ambivalent, as long as it didn't detract from their profits. It's also an idea that's probably more workable now given the higher cost of energy, so either doing heating, or just generating electricity from the incinerator.

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: Assumptions

            I worked at the UK Met Office for a number of years supporting their HPCs, and had opportunity to talk to the data centre operations manager on a regular basis. The water cooling the systems I looked after normally left the systems at less than 35oC (the systems had sensors on the input and output of the water cooling systems, which I sometimes looked at). The temperature gain was about 20 degrees, but apparently it was not feasible to feed warmer water to get a higher temperature output because of thermodynamic engineering issues that I never really understood (I also talked to IBM's then HPC engineering team in Poughkeepsie).

            Because the Met. Office was worried about the impact of running HPC's (it's the home of the Hadley Centre which is one of the primary location of climate research in the UK), they had a constant exercise looking at the constructive use of the waste heat, but over and over again, they concluded that the waste heat was of too low a grade to make it economical to use to even heat the hot water in the offices.

            This was a number of years ago, so I don't know whether advances in heat pump technology have changed this since then, but I guess that even now it's quite a delicate balancing act. It seems a no-brainer, but the realities are complex. It probably has to be designed in to the site when it's being built from the ground up.

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              Re: Assumptions

              35°C would be fine but that's not really the issue: it's the volume, or more specifically the total energy available which I suspect isn't going to be able to heat much on cold days. And any kind of subsidy is just going to distort the market towards what is already considered the most expensive form of heating: electricity. Much better to dump excess heat into the ground (> 2m) and let it disperse. If needed, ground-sourced heat pumps can tap into this in the winter.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Assumptions

                Much better to dump excess heat into the ground (> 2m) and let it disperse.

                Another idea that can and does work, but fights against practicality and economics in that it's expensive to build a proper underground cooling circuit since thermal conductivity of earth (subsoil, clay, rock etc) is exceptionally poor, which is why cooling to atmosphere is popular. As passengers on the London Underground in summer will observe, the ability of the ground to absorb excess heat is not at all good.

                1. ChrisC Silver badge

                  Re: Assumptions

                  "As passengers on the London Underground in summer will observe, the ability of the ground to absorb excess heat is not at all good."

                  Except that if you go back to the early years of the underground network (and remember that the earliest deep level tube lines have now been in near constant operation for over 100 years), it WAS noticeably cooler down there than at surface level, to the point that it was actively advertised as a benefit during the summer period. So provided you have a means of keeping the ground temperatures low enough (such as via forced extraction of that heat via a GSHP setup) to maintain the desired heat transfer away from the thing you want to keep cool, then using the ground as a heat sink makes a lot of sense.

                  1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                    Re: Assumptions

                    "Except that if you go back to the early years of the underground network (and remember that the earliest deep level tube lines have now been in near constant operation for over 100 years), it WAS noticeably cooler down there than at surface level"

                    There's a massive cooling system on the Underground. Secrets of the London Underground often shows how they've repurposed disused lift shafts to add more ventilation because it's been in operation for so long that things have heated up. Some of the old station buildings that aren't used anymore hide the points where air is discharged.

                2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

                  Re: Assumptions

                  For a new data centre build installing a ground (2 m is hardly underground) cooling/heating system isn't going to be much of an additional expense. Depending on latitude and geography, you'll generally have 10°C year round which means you enough energy to drive heat pumps and enough of a gradient to cool in the summer, which is becoming increasingly difficult. The "efficiency" is largely down to the piping used for energy transport.

                  That said, my initial remark was I don't think data centres are really ever going to be in the business of heat exchanges. For domestic installations, the additional cost versus air-sourced heat pumps are not that excessive and it's one of the few that can really cool efficiently in the summer.

                3. Roland6 Silver badge

                  Re: Assumptions

                  > “As passengers on the London Underground in summer will observe, the ability of the ground to absorb excess heat is not at all good.”

                  But welcomed by passengers in winter…

              2. Roland6 Silver badge

                Re: Assumptions

                >” but that's not really the issue”

                In the larger scheme of things the issue is the heating of the earths surface and atmosphere at a rate faster than it can leak the heat into space.

                A question has to be - what is the rate of heat dispersion in space, ie. Is the earth slowly warming the space in which it orbits, and is this significant over say a thousand years.

                1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

                  Re: Assumptions

                  Warming space?

                  Checking date... no, not April 1st.

              3. Roland6 Silver badge

                Re: Assumptions

                The best use would be to locate the datacentre under a market garden/greenhouse complex.

                If you are a little more up market, perhaps the roof might make a nice vineyard or even support the large scale cultivation of pineapples. (See https://www.heligan.com/news/pineapple-success/ ).

                1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                  Re: Assumptions

                  "The best use would be to locate the datacentre under a market garden/greenhouse complex.

                  If you are a little more up market, perhaps the roof might make a nice vineyard or even support the large scale cultivation of pineapples. (See https://www.heligan.com/news/pineapple-success/ )."

                  The main comment that I wanted to make is that it will be more cost effective to find a limited number of commercial users of the heat rather than thousands of houses being hooked to the hot water supply. They'd also be digging up the roads yet again for the installation and constantly for repairs if heating homes was the plan.

                  As stated, it's low grade heat and would need boosting for many applications, but if the data center was installed outside of a city centre and greenhouses are next door, that could be a great combination. Not only can veg (technically fruit) like tomatoes be grown year round, so can many other things that don't tolerate cold temperatures. Heat is often used for processing as well and even if the water needs to be hotter, starting with warm water is much better. Even citrus trees grown outside can be kept warm enough with underground pipes providing heat. The return water could be brought back into a chiller, but in a similar argument as above, it would start with colder water than if it had just come from the racks. Apiaries could be put on the roof of the data center so heat leaking through the roof will keep the bees warm in winter if there aren't solar panels installed.

        2. cyberdemon Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: Assumptions

          Datacentres already have huge water chillers to take the lukewarm water from inside and dump that heat into the outside air.

          If a modern "heat pump" is able to run with a flow temp of 50 and dT of 45, then a datacentre chiller used for district heating should be able to produce a flow temp of 70 if the cooling water from the servers is a tepid 30.

          Ok so the DC still has to run the chillers, so no cost saving for them, and they'd need direct liquid cooling to get 30C water, but assuming they want that anyway, then the district heating idea could still be sound?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Assumptions

            it's all green wash with a nice back hander for GOV ministers mates

          2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Assumptions

            > then the district heating idea could still be sound?

            But the UK occasionally has summers.

            What if one day there was 'Wot a scortcher' with temperatures rising to 20C? The data center is running it's AC at full power but your nan doesn't want her central heating on full blast.

            Presumably this means the data centers have to build a chiller plant capable of handling the full heat output and spend all the extra to concentrate low grade heat for housing. But with the extra complexity of 1000s of local residents deciding hourly how much cooling capacity they will provide

            1. skswales

              Re: Assumptions

              Yeah, remember crap cars? Friend 30 yrs ago had one where you had to run the heater full tilt in the middle of summer, or the engine would overheat - windows open all weathers.

              1. Roland6 Silver badge

                Re: Assumptions

                Trouble is that is the problem with solar thermal systems - to stop them overheating you have to have a radiator on the wall somewhere (ideally in a shady place) so the heat can be vented from the system.

                1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                  Re: Assumptions

                  "Trouble is that is the problem with solar thermal systems - to stop them overheating you have to have a radiator on the wall somewhere (ideally in a shady place) so the heat can be vented from the system."

                  I picked up a 20 tube solar water heater that I need to rebuild and I was thinking that during the summer, I'd fit a cover over the number of tubes I don't to cut down on how much heat was being generated in the system. I may also split the system into two 10-tube manifolds so I can direct heat in different ways. My evaporative cooler pumps out its reservoir every 6 hours and I need to get a holding tank before next season. From that holding tank, I'd like to distill the water and store the output in another tank as the water is from a well and very hard. It gets even more mineralized after having gone through the swamp cooler. I might also need to process the water from time to time to combat algae. Spores are very prevalent in the area and still open water turns green in short order.

                  I'm trying to contemplate all the uses I could have for heat and at least make some allowance in my thermal system to add things on as time goes by. The overall goal is to eliminate using gas for everything other than the range. It's currently run it on propane via 5gal tanks and the cost to upgrade the electrical service and run the wiring doesn't seem to have any ROI over a time period worthwhile to me. It also means I can cook meals if the electricity goes off.

        3. Lurko

          Re: Assumptions

          "The hot water provided by my local heating distribution (Potsdam DE area) comes into the house with the pipes too hot to touch - 70 or 80C at a guess - and leaves most of the time not much cooler. I'm not sure how well the heat exchanger would work with lower temperatures - at present it can deliver hot water too hot to use unmixed with cold."

          Domestic hot water has to be at least 60C to eradicate legionella, so any prudent design would be aiming for the household hot water at the tap to be at least that. If the heat network feed is 80C then there's a fair dT and the system can operate at adequate efficiency (with a trailing wind, there's lots of possible complications). Given the absolute requirement for 60C or above at the tap, if the network tried to use cooler incoming water then the network dT is going to be proportionately lower and the system efficiency declines. There's not much you can do about that, because if the property needs a heat pump on its own water supply then the result is yet more cost and complication, plus a higher electricity demand at the property.

          There have been experiments to have the heat network act as a bulk low grade heat source with the household using heat pumps, but that usually means the households need hot water storage as well as a heat pump, the savings on the network of better dT and lower input temperatures are more than offset by the inefficiencies of loads of individual heat pumps, and suddenly the beautiful simplicity of the heat network is destroyed. As with almost any idea, technically possible, just doesn't make sense in the real world.

          1. John Sager

            Re: Assumptions

            As with almost any idea, technically possible, just doesn't make sense in the real world

            Looks like the govt didn't ask the right people if it would work before chucking our money at it. Sadly this isn't uncommon:(

            If it made sense economically then the data centres would be on it already as an extra income stream, not needing the taxpayer to pay for it.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Assumptions

              of course they spoke to the right people, people with money to back hand them for giving gov money to their mates to dish out.

            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: Assumptions

              "If it made sense economically then the data centres would be on it already as an extra income stream, not needing the taxpayer to pay for it."

              The people in the company that did the planning for those centres are only slightly smarter than Government wonks. They'll decide they want to locate in the middle of a big city for .... reasons rather than spend a bit more time coming up with a way to turn their waste stream into an income stream by locating outside the city somewhere along a fiber corridor. Using the heat for agriculture seems like one of the most obvious applications, but ag needs inexpensive land that won't be found in a city. Data centres can be just about anywhere and I expect there can be found some staff that don't want to spend half their pay on a 20sqm third floor flat in the middle of a big city.

          2. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: Assumptions

            "Domestic hot water has to be at least 60C to eradicate legionella"

            Only if it's stored at moderately high temperatures.

            You don't want a tank of water sitting at 50 degrees, but you can have cold water heated on demand to 50 degrees all day long.

            1. JWLong

              Re: Assumptions

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legionella_pneumophila

              So what happens when the cold water isn't heated.

              Here,let me explain.

              It's called Chlorination, it's the process of adding chlorine or chlorine compounds such as sodium hypochlorite to water to kill bacteria, viruses, and other microbes.

              In Vietnam we used Calcium Hypochlorite to kill the bugs in the water after running it through an evaporator.

              1. Lurko

                Re: Assumptions

                "It's called Chlorination, it's the process of adding chlorine or chlorine compounds such as sodium hypochlorite to water to kill bacteria, viruses, and other microbes."

                Generally yes, but there have been many instances of legionella being detected in cold water, even in modern, well run water systems with chemical treatment. You might think your water is properly sterilised, I can assure you from years of experience in the water industry that it is treated only on a best endeavours basis, and there's plenty of opportunity for water to stagnate in various parts of the distribution system. Dirt gets in, steel rusts, biofilms accumulate, and these create the conditions for bacteria to multiply. In the cold water supply that's not normally a problem because it's usually cold enough to limit the growth, but in hot water systems all forms of bacteria will breed rapidly unless the temperature is sufficiently high to kill them off - although John Robson is correct that 50C is deemed adequate for instantaneous hot water systems.

                1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                  Re: Assumptions

                  "although John Robson is correct that 50C is deemed adequate for instantaneous hot water systems."

                  55C is the regulation in Australia. There might be some regional differences due to what bugs are common.

      2. Lurko

        Re: Assumptions

        "But even if it is marginal and not a complete solution to house heating or datacentre cooling, it should mean the datacentre doesn't need to run its chillers so much, and the houses don't need to run their boilers so much."

        This idea has been kicking around for a long time, and is a fairly typical pie in the sky idea for the glorious green future we're all going to be paying for, much like the dreams of a hydrogen economy. In a previous role I've been deeply involved in planning and investing in district heating systems, and participated in the sector talking-shops where ideas like this get floated. The core of a typical district heating system operates around 80-90C, so additional input heat has to be at least that. Getting heat of that temperature out of a DC cooling system that's aiming to deliver environmental temperatures in the 16-27C range is not easy. The low dT of a heat pump means taking 25C to 85C you'd need to run the heat through multiple stages, and at each stage there's waste heat on the heat pumps return flow, as well as energy input for each stage. By the time you've got the heat at a useable temperature you've invested in a mass of series heat pumps, a lot of risk that something goes wrong, so as a DC operator you still need alternative cooling arrangements (and there's availability risk on the heat network itself, if that's offline due to a leak or other fault). It can be done and has been at a few demonstration sites, but given the modest net heat output, the cost, the operational risk it makes no sense other than for a bit of greenwashing. It's on a par with having you car's cooling circuit linked to a heat store in the boot, taking that heat store out when you get home and using it to warm your home - entirely feasible as a technical idea to use "free" waste heat, but the downsides far outweigh the benefits.

        In the context of a district heating system, houses don't have boilers - they have a heat interchange unit that keeps the heat network water separate from the household water circuits. There's no local top up heating other if the householder plugs in a fan heater or similar. The savings on fossil fuels from any excess DC heat then depend on the heat source. That's typically a big, efficient gas boiler for peaking and a CHP unit for baseload. As the DC heat generally won't contribute to peak load, it'll be competing with a very efficient CHP, which usually is able to sell some of the electricity into the ancillary services market for a generous whack - competing with that is going to be difficult. In a UK context the savings on the gas bill for a heat network system would be pretty small. There's a host of other factors probably of no interest to most people, but one thing to bear in mind is the hugely seasonal demand on a heat network that's out of phase with DC cooling needs.

        The public money being spent here is being wasted. The technologies are well understood, it's entirely feasible, but it falls down because DC owners can't cope with complication or unreliable cooling (hence capex for them goes up, not down), the heat networks operators can't afford to pay much if anything for the heat and can't offer performance guarantees at a value that makes sense for the DC operator.

        The £36m would have been far better spent on external wall insulation of 3,000 solid wall homes.

        1. munnoch Bronze badge

          Re: Assumptions

          Yup, all heat is not made equal, hence the massive uphill task to replace individual gas boilers with HP's.

          Plus the heating demand from the housing estate and the cooling demand in the DC will have completely different seasonality.

        2. EBG

          Thank you

          for sharing your knowledge

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Assumptions

        "Datacentres run flat out 24/7 because otherwise they are not making maximum profit and suffer from asset depreciation."

        That same thing can be said of large scale crypto mining centers and there are plenty of those that have shut down with all of the gear abandoned in place. Some external factor caused them to not be profitable so they shut down. It doesn't have to be reduced demand. It could be a corrupt management that was cooking the books and extracting all of the cash until the utility company starts calling about unpaid invoices. Even if the assets are bought by somebody else and the facility put back in operation, that could be weeks of zero heat output and then, since customers would have fled, a very scaled back operation for some time.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Assumptions

      That is an interesting question. Maybe someone a bit science orientated can answer this. Is one massive heater more efficient that say 50 individual heaters? (I would say yes) If so then the wise person would put in place alternative plans should what you say happens.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Assumptions

        Of it's a gas/oil/coal boiler then yes.

        If it's electrical heating then it doesn't matter, unless it was electricity you were going to use anyway to render cat videos rather than waste in an electric heater.

        Obvious solution is to go Cloud^2 and distribute your servers to everyone's house

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          Which one company is already doing...

        2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          If it's electric the question becomes: where's the power coming from? Renewable or from a oil/gas/coal/nuclear plant And how's the heat being generated? Directly? Or via some a "multiplier" such as a heat pump.

      2. Lurko

        Re: Assumptions

        "That is an interesting question. Maybe someone a bit science orientated can answer this. Is one massive heater more efficient that say 50 individual heaters? (I would say yes) If so then the wise person would put in place alternative plans should what you say happens."

        Yes, one big boiler is more efficient and typically we're talking 400-2,500 properties for typical UK scale heat networks. As an aside, in central and Northern Europe they can be twenty times the scale.

        However, the boiler efficiency is only part of it, overall network losses can be quite high especially so if the network is retrofitted into existing buildings. Overall losses are the thermal efficiency of the boiler plus heat losses across the network, at valves and sensor locations, within multi-occupancy buildings but outside of the apartments. Those latter losses can be massive on retrofit installations because it's impossible to adequately insulate pipes within existing service ducts. And then you've got operational losses such as the heat loss when a boiler or heat store comes offline, whether intentionally or due to a system fault, the energy for pumping, monitoring and control.

        Bear in mind that mostly we're not talking domestic gas boilers versus heat networks, because the majority of heat networks serve apartments that generally wouldn't be equipped with individual gas boilers. There's some exceptions - search Cranbrook heat network problems for a network serving properties instead of individual gas boilers, but as a rule most heat networks serve a modest number of apartment buildings each with 80-150 apartments, and from an operators viewpoint ideally with a large anchor load such as a shopping centre, or a mix of municipal buildings.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Assumptions

        "Is one massive heater more efficient that say 50 individual heaters?"

        What do you want the answer to be? It's going to be about what assumptions you go in with. An ideal system with no losses will favor a central location. As soon as you start factoring in losses throughout, construction costs, ongoing maintenance and periodic replacement of piping, 50 individual installations can be much more efficient.

    4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Assumptions

      It's not even really a good idea in principle because output doesn't come anywhere close to matching demand, neither in scale nor, more importantly, in timescale: peak output is likely to be when it's warm.

      It might be possible to come up with a deal with a local utility which could also help work on energy efficiency: any energy saved by the data centre could be used more efficiently by the utility. This would also reduce the risk of the customers losing a potentially volatile supplier.

    5. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

      Re: Assumptions

      It's a bad idea. You can tell it's a bad idea because government is having to pay for it. If it was viable, there would be profit in it and the free market would have done it already.

      We are cursed with perpetual left-wing government.

      1. Paul 195

        Re: Assumptions

        "We are cursed with perpetual left-wing government."

        Where have you been for the last 13 years?

        1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          Where have I been for the last 13 years?

          I've been watching the state expand ever outward like the thread on Mr Creosote's shirt buttons.

          Even the "austerity" years merely slowed the advance.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Assumptions

            Expand?

            It has positively mushroomed since 2016…

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          >Where have you been for the last 13 years?

          Compared to PM Suella, the last 13years is going to look Corbynist

      2. MarkTriumphant

        Re: Assumptions

        I upvoted you for the first part, but I don't think the second part is true - I think it is a good way to get money to their friends, so any side of government might do it.

        1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          The reason I say that we have a left wing government is that it is doing nonsense like this.

          If Labour were the party in power, these interventions would appear perfectly in keeping. That it isn't a surprise in this Conservative government is very telling.

          I don't believe there is *that* much corruption in government of any stripe in this country. Not including the SNP of course. Plenty of incompetence. Too much job swaps from regulator to regulated, but little to no financial crimes.

      3. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: Assumptions

        "If it was viable, there would be profit in it and the free market would have done it already."

        Not quite true. The awful "socialist" Scandinavia has many publicly funded or backed things, and benefit from things like good public transport, and good housing.

        UK has things like slum landlords. Very free market.

        1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          Nowhere in Scandanavia is socialist. They are Social Democracies, which is a centre-left ideology.

          I was going to criticise the rest of your post, but to be honest, mixing up socialism and social democracy is plenty.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Assumptions

            >Nowhere in Scandanavia is socialist. They are Social Democracies

            They don't have slavery = they're communist !

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Assumptions

        "We are cursed with perpetual left-wing government."

        total and utter bollocks. the last even partially left wing one was the one that created the NHS.

        We are cursed with perpetual right-wing corrupt government. stuffing money into their mates pockets (some of which via hidden methods appears in the pockets of the MP's and lords/ladies).

        1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          Grow up

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Assumptions

            says the person with the childish response..

    6. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Assumptions

      Well it takes less energy to heat up warm water than cold water, so if used IN ISOLATION, as the sole source of heat, then obviously it isn't going to be robust. But a manifold input into a final stage heat boosting stage so new DCs can easily hook in, providing a balance... it makes sense. More so if you give some form of credit, or apply some sort of penalty, based on a DCs "waste" energy output.

      1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

        Re: Assumptions

        Or do what the economists say. Drop all subsidies, all green schemes, all interventions. Set the price of carbon emissions *at the social cost of those emissions* and let the free market sort it out.

        If it's worth DC's selling their excess heat, they'll do it. If not, it isn't economically viable even with a carbon tax priced in.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Assumptions

          So you up the carbon tax until it happens. That's an "intervention", no? Or, if you set it at the true social cost... how do you even begin to work that out?! Insurance companies for flood and storm damage? Flood defence costs? In theory the "cost" of man made climate change is incalculably high. You must have a yardstick somewhere. \

          Intriguing...

          I'll just go and write an economic simulation of that. Now, to find a datacenter to run that in...

          1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

            Re: Assumptions

            You can't just keep increasing the tax until you get the outcomes you want because you want people to be able to consume. If CO2 usage doesn't drop then it turns out that all that CO2 emissions were useful after all and we can spend the tax receipts on sea defences.

            As far as I can see, the guy who got the Nobel for this says $31/ton.

            The tax incentivises the market to find solutions without pricing out consumers from what they deem useful (eg: transport).

            For example, if the damage of CO2 is priced in, it might become economically viable to produce synthetic petrol. Or not. Maybe the answer isn't zero emission cars - it's cleaner ones. Maybe LPG+electric hybrid cars are the answer, for example. Maybe it's fuel cells.

            But our current solution is to say "lets force everybody to electric cars, we'll power them by, well, we'll worry about that later". Obviously that's silly. That isn't going to do anything about the problem. That's what happens when you leave the idiot politicians in charge.

            The latest estimates for the UK to go to net zero is over a trillion pounds. That's clearly unaffordable. So we need to do something else. Set the tax and let the market handle it.

            ( The politicians won't go for this because, for one, they'll have to *drop* fuel duty ).

            1. TRT Silver badge

              Re: Assumptions

              They don't drop fuel duty.... they quantify it, still charge it and spend it on sea defences. That's what you said, isn't it?

              Currently $31 / ton means 8c a litre fuel duty. That can't be right. I reckon $31/ton is too low; a Nature article last year put it at $185 or around 6 times higher than you said. That makes Petrol Carbon Tax around 48c / litre. Currently UK fuel duty is 53p / litre or 65c. It's close, if slightly higher. What we're not seeing is things like an emissions tax added to everything else - steel in our tin cans, cardboard for packaging, agricultural fuel (currently taxed at around 14c per litre) etc etc Overall the cost to the consumer would rise, levelling out by sector but allowing those where decarbonisation is easiest technically and economically to transition. They're doing that anyway!

              What you haven't factored in is the cost of calculating what the emissions duty for each sector should be. Is that something else we get the market to do? How do we do that globally? Especially with local variations in emissions?

              1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

                Re: Assumptions

                > They don't drop fuel duty.... they quantify it, still charge it and spend it on sea defences. That's what you said, isn't it?

                You abolish fuel duty and then apply a carbon tax to it. If that figure is 8c/litre then fine. If it's 48c/litre then fine.

                Yes you'd have to calculate it for everything, but if you want to solve this thing that's how you to it. Green schemes where governments pick winners are just silly headline grabbing distractions.

                I guess it would work like VAT, except you only pay the tax on your added carbon, not your added value and for most firms it would probably be done through their fuel bills. Eg: If you have a factory, you don't have any direct emissions, but the electricity you use does.

                1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

                  Re: Assumptions

                  ... But obviously you'd have to spend years un-breaking the energy market before you apply a carbon tax to it.

                  A government stupidity tax and a carbon tax combined would be too much for people to bear. Perhaps start by only discounting the carbon tax by the difference between the excess we pay because of government meddling and what the price should be. The promise of a stable long term incentive system should be enough for the system to correct itself over the long term.

  2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Intel

    Such a good news for Intel and their heating / CPU contraptions.

    Now the datacentres won't be able to switch to more efficient technologies that won't act as heating systems.

    1. Tom Womack

      Re: Intel

      If the technology is more efficient, you can stick more of it in a box to use the same amount of power at the same temperature. There was a brief period where people used individual low-power servers, before realising that collecting jobs using virtual machines onto big machines hosting 256 vCPU in 2U and 1kW was a much more efficient use of the very-expensive space.

      1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: Intel

        That assumption is only valid if the more efficient boxes can generate the same amount of heat. If you replace the 1kW server with 200W one, taking roughly the same amount of space, you will have to build additional 4 data centres to match the heat output. Then consider the more efficient boxes will reduce overall load, as they will be able to run more services on single server making others idle.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Intel

          The limit on data center space isn't the size of the cpu, it's the maximum power I can put in and heat I can remove from a rack.

          I can already fit about 4x as many GPUs in 42U than I'm allowed to.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Intel

        >” before realising that collecting jobs using virtual machines onto big machines hosting 256 vCPU ”

        And so the wheel turns…

        It wasn’t many years back that mainframe concepts such as this were deemed old fashioned etc. …

    2. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Intel

      If you want to sell heat, there are more cost efficient methods than "heat up water by running an old inefficient CPU".

      If the market is going to be so skewed that this is viable, then it will make more sense to just burn coal and heat the water with that.

  3. Valeyard

    are they heating the homes...

    Are the data centres heating the homes or are the residents living in monetised heatsinks?

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: are they heating the homes...

      It's an upgrade from mouldy shoe box.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: are they heating the homes...

        You had a mouldy shoe box ?

        Luxury ....

        1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

          Re: are they heating the homes...

          But his is on the motorway. Is yours?

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: are they heating the homes...

            On top of the Motorway ?

            You don't know you're born ..

  4. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    But what happens in the summer when the domestic users don't want their homes heating but rather cooling? (The exact time of year when the data centres really want to dump heat outside!)

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Don't ask difficult questions. There is £36 million to spend! Do you want all those directors to starve?

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "directors to starve"

        rather:

        "mates of ministers" who gave them backhanders

        follow the money

        1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

          follow the money

          Something SFO and others seem to be incapable of doing.

        2. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

          That's a silly interpretation. Just because you dislike the blue rosette of this branch of the Uniparty doesn't mean that it is corrupt.

          What's happened here is that "something must be done, this is something, therefore this must be done".

          Government should not be picking winners. And this is a case of government picking winners.

          We know this isn't financially viable because the private sector isn't already doing it.

          1. Paul 195
            Alert

            Have you ever met anyone from the private sector?

            They are not all uber-rational financial and technical geniuses, anymore than everyone who works in government is a half-wit. I've seen the insides of enough well-respected titans of the FT100 to know that the "private sector" can be just as dysfunctional and slow on the uptake as any Whitehall department. BTW, neither the internet nor the world-wide web was created by the "private sector".

            You don't know always know whether an innovation is actually feasible or a good idea till you try to build it. Sometimes the private sector puts up that cash, sometimes the government does. I can see from the screeds of information provided in the thread that this is one of those ideas that might/might not work, depending on the practicalities. So maybe it's worth taking a small scale punt on it to see if can be made to work as if it could there would be worthwhile benefits. And if it can't, we can put it back into the drawer with all the other stuff that never turned out to be practical.

            1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

              Re: Have you ever met anyone from the private sector?

              If the private sector is inefficient then it doesn't matter to us at all.

              If the free market tries to implement this and it fails, we don't care. Some private investor loses his money. Not our problem. If the incompetents in government do it then they are losing our money - and it doesn't even matter to them because it's not their money.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "doesn't mean that it is corrupt"

            That's a silly interpretation. Just because you love the blue rosette.

            have you seen the fucking news about all the covid money (malone, etc), corrupt is putting it mildly

            never mind all the "let the old die shit"

            1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

              You're the one bringing parties into it. I wouldn't assume Labour are corrupt either, just because I disagree with their politics.

              The "Covid money" was spent in an emergency. Normal processes were bypassed intentionally because we were desperate to get our hands on the globally limited PPE supplies. Remember France seizing orders that were meant to be shipped to Britain?

              Yes, money was wasted. That was the price of rushing. The alternative was worse.

              Also you are intentionally misunderstanding the "let it rip" comment. The average age of a Covid death was 82. We now know that lots of much younger people have died as a direct result of lockdowns - through delayed cancer diagnoses, etc. More life years have been lost by lockdowns than were saved by it.

              Letting it rip was a reasonable suggestion - one that the facts have proven to be the right outcome.

              Sweden - much maligned at the time - has the lowest culmulative excess death rate in the OECD.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                your the one who brought up blue rosettes, and keep ranting about the left.

                stop making excuses for the worst people on the fucking planet.

                your type is the reason we can't have nice things

                1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
                  Facepalm

                  Your fellow travellers are out on the streets celebrating a genocide of Jewish people for the crime of being Jewish. And you say that centre-left Tories are the "worst people on the planet".

                  Christ on a bike.

              2. Paul 195

                Much of the Covid money was spent with newly minted companies that had no experience in the area of PPE, but did have access to the "VIP lane" of government ministers. While companies who were *actually in the business of making and supplying PPE* were ignored. I refer you to the case of Michelle Mone and PPE Medpro, the best known and most egregious case of this fraud. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/nov/06/michelle-mone-admits-involvement-with-vip-lane-ppe-company

                1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

                  That there were fraudsters trying to steal from the government isn't a surprise.

                  The governments priority at the time, rightly, was speed over value for money. If some money was misspent or stolen then, in the grand scheme of things, that wasn't that important.

                  There wasn't an abundance of PPE around. At the time, Labour came up with a list of "suppliers" that the government apparently hadn't contacted and published it in order to try to embarrass the government.

                  The list was beyond satire - including a bespoke dress maker ( ie: not a mass manufacturer of *anything* ). If these companies were available, you'd think Labour's list might have contained them.

                  1. Roland6 Silver badge

                    >” The governments priority at the time, rightly, was speed over value for money.”

                    If this really was the case, they would have spoken to bona fida medical supplies experts and contracted with existing suppliers albeit at a premium price.

                    The CoViD inquiry is showing that the government didn’t take CoViD seriously, so it is becoming increasingly clear, CoViD was just a convenient cover story for Tories exploiting an opportunity to throw public money at their mates. About the only thing that the government did that could be described as forward thinking was its up front investment in vaccine research.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's a very good point but people will still have a need for hot water not that it will help much. The logical person would factor that in and calculate the supply needed for the homes during the whole year and offset that with the commercial users. In winter commercial users get less and in summer get more but who ever saw anything logical in these things.

      1. Lurko

        "The logical person would factor that in and calculate the supply needed for the homes during the whole year and offset that with the commercial users."

        A lovely idea, but most commercial and municipal use is still space heating and mostly with the same diurnal pattern - process uses of low grade heat are few and far between, which is why people can't give the stuff away. There is a massive variation between winter peak and heat network baseload. If you imagine how much hot water gets used over a summer night by a few hundred properties, the answer's "almost none", but the heat network has to still be offering heat for anybody that does want a hot shower or to wash their dishes. That baseload will generally be met by a gas fired gen set, with the electricity sold back to the grid (or being more precise, it's usually sold back to the local distribution company). If you look at a heat network load curve, then the average heat demand in the summer will be about 5% of the peak demand on the coldest night.

        Now think coldest night of the year, -12C (for planning purposes might need to go a tad lower) and those hundreds of properties are losing heat at an impressive rate and the heat network has to keep up with that, meaning an energy centre running multiple duty assist boilers. That's a killer for asset utilisation, and as you can imagine the efficiency during the summer is poor.

  5. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Levelling up

    I notice the taxpayer subsidised projects are situated in London, London, London, Watford (London), Suffolk, with Lancaster being the one exception outside SE England. Obviously, data centres are congregating around London, as that's where the highest % of their customers will probably be, but it's a bit rum that well off Londoners will be getting the (presumably) cheaper heating as a result.

    1. Lurko

      Re: Levelling up

      No, they won't get heating any cheaper. Only a small proportion of DC energy use would be available as beneficial heat on a heat network, and the capex requirements for the system will be higher. There's a number of heat networks that use waste heat from energy from waste plants (typically municipal incinerators), and despite that source of what you might assume to be free heat, I can't think of any instances where that provably resulted in lower bills. That's especially so because the bulk of a heat network's cost is the network itself, not the fuel or operating costs.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Levelling up

        If it isn't cheaper then why would you sign up to it or buy a house with it?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Levelling up

          Cos there will be a one off grant to the home owner, or more likely it will only be used for municipal systems.

          Especially if the homeowner would be responsible for maintenance.

        2. Lurko

          Re: Levelling up

          You don't get a choice, that's why. In most apartment blocks individual gas boilers have not been used for a good number of years. You get what was installed when the building was constructed, or if its an older building, when it was last completely refurbished. There won't be an electricity system capable of supporting (say) storage heaters, and there won't be a gas supply. Some low level apartments have individual boilers, anything of any size you'd only ever have a communal boiler (now a "heat network", and needing to have heat meters and heat billing), or storage heaters. But the occupant didn't make that choice, it would be the landlord or maintenance company, and usually their choice applied to all apartments in a block.

          It's uncommon to find individual houses supplied by heat networks, but there are some. If they're social housing, again the landlord tells the tenant what they get. If it's a privately owned property, then the heat network will be built in at construction, and the property will come with restrictive covenants (so your choice is to take it, or buy a property elsewhere). People living in properties they've bought but are connected to the E.ON Cranbrook heat network aren't allowed to change supplier for the next seventy odd years, as a well known example. This is what our government call a competitive energy market.

  6. theModge

    The University of Birmingham do this

    We've got a decent sized compute cluster (called Bear). When it's latest iteration was built they used it to heat some buildings on campus. There's already quite a lot of CPH powering bits of campus, but this was located on the other side of the (ever expanding) campus and I believe heats some of the student accommodation

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: The University of Birmingham do this

      It's very different when you own all the infrastructure and buildings involved.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: The University of Birmingham do this

        Not forgetting the land between buildings, so no need for permission to dig etc.

  7. Fazal Majid

    New datacenters?

    Last I heard, new housing and datacenter plans were put on ice because of a lack of electrical grid capacity to power them. One big factor is NIMBYs objecting to the construction of power lines from Scotland, where wind power is plentiful but sparse population means little demand, to South-East England where the demand is.

    1. Lurko

      Re: New datacenters?

      "Lack of capacity" is almost always not about national generating capacity, nor on the transmission side of things (the big high voltage stuff across the countryside on giant pylons) but on the lower voltage distribution networks within urban areas. Most people are blissfully unaware of the knife-edge that these urban distribution networks rest upon, with many only avoiding local network failure by co-opting business standby power generators and paying some businesses to turn off their power on a daily basis.

      Essentially, networks are very expensive to build, so nobody has ever built speculative capacity. That means that unless a DC is being built on the former site of an electricity intensive industry that still has the necessary links and capacity, then it needs new distribution links back to the transmission system, or expensive rebuild of multiple substations to support higher voltages. Either way it's massively expensive in built up areas. Even if the site was a former energy intensive user, it's pretty common to find the capacity has already been committed to new build housing.

      Whilst payments from DC operators to electricity distribution companies are common, in most case they will not be willing to pay for the necessary distribution improvements if there's actually no local capacity. More commonly they'll be looking for a sweet spot location moderately close to end users, where there's no local opposition, land is not too pricey, there's an acceptably close 11kV+ link with plenty of capacity so that they're not on the hook for £10m+ costs of an electricity connection.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't know why they just don't pump all that hot air directly out of Westminster....

    Kidding aside, surely most existing DCs would need to be redesigned to facilitate efficient use of such a system? Who's going to bear that cost? Otherwise it will end up being new DC builds only, and how many of them are being commissioned now-a-days?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      You don't need to redesign the data center, just relocate the housing.

      Hot air vents together with a fully recyclable carbon-friendly pre-fab box structure is an obvious solution to providing affordable central London housing

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We looked into this a while back when a developer was proposing to build a datacentre in our village. The developers lay on plenty of greenwashing to try and get planning permission. But in reality it is all bullshit. They have no interest in actually implementing it because it's fundamentally flawed.

    It sounds like a nice idea until you consider the actual practicalities of it. The cost of retrofitting this into existing buildings is enormous. Imagine digging up every road in Hammersmith and Fulham and everybody's garden to lay the pipes and then trying to retrofit heat exchangers into 100 year old buildings that all have different types of existing heating systems. 36 million won't even scratch the surface.

    Even for new building developments, the idea of community heating has been tried before on council estates like Duffryn in Newport and in various grotty old tower blocks. While it's cheaper to install, the system has a short lifetime compared to that of the buildings. As it ages, the ongoing maintenance gets skimped on, parts become unavailable, short-term fixes are made. It falls into disrepair and stops working efficiently. The people that built it have moved on and the schematics don't match the installation. It becomes uneconomic to repair or replace and the company that is responsible for managing it just disappears leaving everybody in the cold.

    A datacentre will of course need an alternative heatsink that they can use in Summer when nobody wants heating. So they don't really have any incentive to spend money maintaining the district heating network. And of course the lifetime of a datacentre may only be only about 15-20 years because technology moves fast and somebody will inevitably be building a newer better faster cheaper datacentre somewhere else.

    1. Lurko

      Picking up on one point, in the context of urban heat networks, the cost of laying heat pipes is eye opening. Because they're low pressure they're much larger than water or gas pipes, they're specialised manufactures because of the duty cycle, and then they're heavily insulated. They need specialist skills for installation, and there's more in the way of control systems, leak detection, temperature and flow monitoring. With much bigger trenches the cost of digging and reinstatement is far higher. So it's not unusual in a built up area with "made up ground" to find that you're talking about £10k per metre of heat network pipe. Do the sums, it's scary.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Communal central heating is a common thing in Scandinavia.

        But, of course, Scandinavians do actual planning, and proper engineering. Thinking ahead, and that kind of thing.

        So nothing like UK.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      £36 mill isn't meant to do it, thats the money going into mates of the ministers pockets to pretend to do it.

      for ref, please see how many millions were "spent" on making boris's garden bridge, compared to how much of the bridge was made.

  10. NXM Silver badge

    Think of the rhubarb

    That waste heat could go to forcing sheds. The Yorkshire Triangle's sheds used to be heated by coal when there was a lot of it about, then waste heat from the power stations (as I remember, could be wrong here). So why not install a forcing shed in the datacentre basement for year-round forced rhubarb?

    Mmmm, rhubarb .....

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Think of the rhubarb

      Rhubarb

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Think of the rhubarb

        Can we also power a custard factory?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Think of the rhubarb

          For just a trifling amount of money

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Think of the rhubarb

        Or this Roobarb

  11. Lee D Silver badge

    While this all sounds fabulous, it really doesn't work and is not even worth the infrastructure to do so.

    If we had some kind of universal municipal grid where any spare heat from any industry can be dumped into it, and used to service homes on a long-term obligation, then it might work.

    But not small-scale, or dependent on one place / company.

    What you want is something like the old steam utility lines that used to be in London and are still used in places like New York I think (but declining for similar reasons).

    But then you want any industry with spare heat to be able to use it for their recovery too.. until you reach the point that people are taking the heat on the ground floor to heat the home, and then feeding back the heat from their roofs to feed back.

    The biggest problem, though, is that heat dissipates, it cools in open air, and you need the incoming to be cooler than the outgoing when it comes to the recovery portion... at that point you're basically operating a heating and refrigeration network for an entire city, with enormous heating/cooling losses.

    Though even I have felt the top of my tumble dryer and thought "there must be something useful I can do with that heat", apart from just letting it vent into the room, there's not much you can do with such small, fleeting amounts.

    In a similar vein, I was testing a stove fan the other day. You put it on top of your heating stove, and it has a thermoelectric plate in it that generates electricity enough to spin a tiny cheap fan to try to waft the hot air around the room. After putting it on a 300C heating surface, I can tell you... it's pathetic. It does spin and "for free", but the motor that spins is one of those toy-fan motors, and it doesn't spin fast enough to even make an air movement that you can feel with your hand. Large blades, proper angle and correct rotation and I literally couldn't feel anything without getting close enough to chop my finger.

    That's pretty much the current state of any heat-recovery technology for the home. I honestly think you'd do better just keeping a pot of water on the boil and using the steam.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > "there must be something useful I can do with that heat", apart from just letting it vent into the room

      The waste heat from your appliances warms your home slightly, meaning that your central heating system has to do less work in order to maintain the temperature set on the thermostat.

      Therefore the heat is not actually wasted, you burn a tiny bit less gas.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Heat from electricity is about 5 times the price of heat from gas, so that's a problem.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          It's not a problem at all. Waste heat from using your appliances is free. You are the running the appliances to do their job, not as an alternative for heating. It's just that the heat they produce while doing their job saves you a tiny bit of gas.

          1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

            Well, it's a problem if you think it's ok to leave things on because they will heat up the house anyway. A monetary problem.

          2. Jan 0 Silver badge

            Yes, but gas heated tumbler dryers are rare nowadays.

    2. Lurko

      "If we had some kind of universal municipal grid where any spare heat from any industry can be dumped into it, and used to service homes on a long-term obligation, then it might work."

      Ignoring the fact that a universal heat network would (a) bankrupt the nation, and (b) wouldn't actually work, I'd simply ask what industry would that be generating spare heat? Back in 1970, British industry used 70 million tonnes of oil equivalent, by 2019 that was down to 20 mtoe, I'd imagine it's dropped since then.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Currently the UK consumes around 89,000 tonnes of oil per day…

    3. Binraider Silver badge

      There are a raft of downvoters throughout this thread that are failing to acknowledge that low-grade heat is horrible to do anything useful with. Yes, a datacentre outputs a lot of heat per rack; but by the time it's dissipated across a large volume of cold air or fluid you at most have a working fluid at maybe 70-80 deg C. Probably less.

      Moving that fluid to where it's needed is itself energy intensive. If one assumes an average ground temperature of about 10 to 15 degrees C, the losses through say, a PVC pipe will severely limit the useful range; the pipe effectively just being a giant radiator and the customers on the end will get the dregs of nothing.

      Such schemes are potty; there are much better things to throw £30m to reduce demand or install green generation.

  12. steviebuk Silver badge

    Burn the bodies

    There was an idea near us to use the energy generated from cooking the dead to heat the local community swimming pool, never happened. Could maybe use it to power a few homes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Burn the bodies

      Maybe near you it never happened, here in Redditch is has. If you swim at the Abbey Stadium at the right time of day, the water will be being warmed by whoever's a'burning over at the crematorium. It's been in service since 2013.

      Personally I'd like to see an illuminated board with messages like "Warmth for this session thanks to Bod Scrotewad, 1937-2023, his personal message dictated on his deathbed "I hope you all drown"".

      Mind you, not that I go - cold pool, unheated floor, unisex changing facilities, and lockers that intentionally steal your 20p every time you open them.

      1. Wobblin' Pete

        Re: Burn the bodies

        Things look very different depending on which end of the telescope you stand.

        People say the Crem in Redditch is being used to heat the pool, but I understand reality is that the pool water is used to cool the flue gasses from the Crem. This condenses nasties like mercury out of the flue gasses, reducing polution. Was told this is all on the back of the number of tooth fillings that go into crematoriums, they have become mercury pollution hot spots. Local pool was 'obvious' source of cooling water...

        As for the spare heat from a data centre, low temp makes it very hard to use outside agriculture - and then only one season a year. First step would be not waste space building it in a city in the first place....

        Ho hum.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Burn the bodies

          > they have become mercury pollution hot spots.

          Perhaps we should go back to using gold for fillings…

      2. PRR Bronze badge
        Flame

        Re: Burn the bodies

        > "Warmth for this session thanks to Bod Scrotewad, 1937-2023,..."

        Wet bodies do not burn. (Mummies will.) Standard cremation depends heavily on inputs from other fuels. Wood in India, nat gas in much of the US. My body will have to be trucked to south Maine where the gas pipes are. (Propane is cheap enough to heat my house for decades but too dear to burn my body once?) The Dear Departed may be subsidizing the low-grade part of their disposal fuel for your swimming pleasure but, as said, the real incentive may be to condense (and recover) the Mercury.

      3. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: Burn the bodies

        Sounds good. Sadly ours it too far away from the pool site.

    2. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Burn the bodies

      Ha! And how will be Soylent Green produced then?

  13. DJO Silver badge

    At the speed of government

    "We are investing in the technologies of the future"

    Heat pumps were first demonstrated around 1750.

    It took until 1834 before the first working vapour compression heat pump was developed for market. Now, 189 years later, the government finally take notice.

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: At the speed of government

      "Now, 189 years later, the government finally take notice."

      Correction: pretend to take notice.

  14. Binraider Silver badge

    £30-odd million of solar panels and batteries would represent a whole lot better use of the money...

    But what do I know?!

    1. Lurko

      If you're talking about the UK, solar's very expensive for what it generates given our high latitude and long dark winters, batteries are relatively expensive other than for certain use cases. Peak energy demand is after dark in winter, solar is of zero help then, so it's a very expensive way of reducing fossil fuel use in summer.

      In countries with better solar resource and where peak energy demand tends to be for summer cooling then it can make excellent sense. In the UK it's been a vast waste of money - somewhere about £10bn has been spent so far, and all that's done is take money out of the conventional generation market, with the result they had to offer capacity payments to keep gas turbines operational. That £10bn would have put solid wall insulation on over 700,000 homes, with far greater environmental benefits.

      Or if it's about renewable generation, then offshore wind would be the way forward. Solar has a capacity factor in the UK around 9%, offshore wind of around 40-48%.

      1. Binraider Silver badge

        Wind's load factor is good, but the shine factor in my own experience is considerably better than 9%.

        Since Oct 2022 my usage from mains has been more than sliced in half with a relatively modest system consisting of 3.6kW of panels and 4kWh of batteries. Cost about 9 grand. NPV is such that it will pay for itself in less than 10 years at "normal" rates - and probably less than 5 at "Russia-Ukraine War" rates.

        £30m of systems divided by 9 grand is a very sizable chunk of demand reduction, rather than pie in the sky systems trying to make use of low-grade heat.

      2. Spazturtle Silver badge

        Solar photovoltaic is expensive and not very good in the winter, but solar thermal tubes are fine.

        1m2 produces about 50l of hot water in the summer and 20l in the winter, most panels are ~2.5m2 so 2 panels would provide 90% of a 4 person household's hot water in summer and 30% in winter with a yearly average of 70%.

        "That £10bn would have put solid wall insulation on over 700,000 homes, with far greater environmental benefits."

        There are not enough trained fitters to properly install that amount of insulation, and poorly installed insulated can be worse than no insulation. Like all the badly installed cavity wall insulation that has cause irreversible damp and thermal bridging.

      3. Roland6 Silver badge

        >If you're talking about the UK…

        Don’t disagree, however, that isn’t stopping the covering of acres of farmland in solar panels.

        I suspect £30m on roof mounted solar panels would be better use of the public monies although I agree insulation etc. would be an even better use.

  15. xyz Silver badge

    Here's a unicorn of an idea...

    Back in the old days, people used to keep their animals on the ground floor and their body heat warmed the people on the first floor. Suella Braverman has too many immigrants and nowhere to put them, so use them for heating people's homes! No need for tents on the streets or assorted Bibby Stockades, just harvest a fresh batch straight off the Kent beach and plonk them in Acacia Ave. You could even keep them under the floorboards, so you didn't affect property prices. Win win all round I say.

    The above is a joke btw so don't go blabbing to Suella as she'd probably go for it.

  16. Tron Silver badge

    Question.

    When they do this, do they force people to have heat pumps? Because they are noisy and involve a lot of intrusive work. You need an internal water storage unit and may have to change a third of your radiators, plus extra piping. Is it legal to forcibly do this?

  17. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
    Trollface

    Department for Energy Security and Net Zero

    How can you have a department where the two parts are in direct conflict?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Department for Energy Security and Net Zero

      I have had much joy giving briefings to OFGEM, DBEIS and the Environment Agency - then putting the three of them in a room to argue over decisions we need making.

      They all have conflicting objectives and the resulting lack of direction to the energy sector is hampering UK development.

      It's a similar story with the NCSC and hare-brained objectives. I understand their rationale, but the execution cannot be kept on top of permanently without massive and ongoing expenditure. It is almost as though network connected CNI assets should be operated locally by trusted teams rather than have remote access.

    2. EBG

      in a previous incarnation ..

      an insider told me, in her words, that it was " a department at war with itself". Although, with a little thought, what else could it be ??

      PS - when it was DEC, so maybe 10 years ago

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: in a previous incarnation ..

        That it's had to change name 6 times in the last 15 years perhaps speaks more than anything else about the mess at the core of our civil services.

  18. temykk

    I live in Espoo, Finland, and within the 5 kilometer radius, I have 3 few MegaWatt-scale datacenters, that are pushing all their heat to the existing district-heating network.

    I also work in a campus, which has it's own small datacenter, that is pushing it's heat to the same district-heating network year-around. It is reality in Finland.

    And the output from the heatpumps to the network is around 80 Celsius, so it is properly hot for the district heating, even in Finland.

    In Finland, the datacenters will have to pay higher taxes for energy, if they are NOT utilizing the excess heat for disctrict heating.

    Fortum is also operating a new 30 MegaWatt air-to-water industrial-scale heatpump for district heating in Espoo, and there are plans to build 3-5 similar in Espoo area.

  19. Happy_Jack

    Another hare-brained idea

    The likely outcome is sinking millions of tax payers' money into something that never works as hoped for, like most Government schemes. At least they have PRINCE 2 to control the costs. /s

    What next, pumping waste cooling water from nuclear power plants into peoples' houses?

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: Another hare-brained idea

      "Another hare-brained idea"

      It's hare brained only because UK can't implement shit.

      Scandinavians have this in many places.

  20. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Is this the same government that has just upheld a denial of planning permission for a datacentre by the M25, resulting in it likely being built in Spain?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As a local resident of that proposal, I will be really pleased if it is built in Spain instead.

      Although the developers like to describe the site as a former gravel pit, landfill site and asbestos dump between the M25 and an industrial estate, the reality is that it was restored to farm land 30 years ago and is now an area of nice green fields and woodland and is part of the Colne valley regional park. It is situated on the border where Buckinghamshire meets London. Hillingdon council have built right up to their border, and this bit of greenbelt land is the only thing preventing London from expanding into Buckinghamshire. That is exactly what greenbelt land is supposed to do. The council and the government both made exactly the right decision. The planning law is very clear that this land is not allowed to be built upon but that doesn't stop their £2000 an hour KC lawyer trying to pervert the meaning of the legislation.

      And despite the developer's vague claims of billions of pounds of overseas investment, they don't actually have a customer asking for this proposed datacentre. It's purely a speculative application. They are just hoping that if they can build it then some big US IT company will want to rent it.

      There are several other datacentres being built in the area, on brown field sites as they should be. Britain is not going to lose out from the denial of this one.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Ignoring the specifics of this site, brown field != not(green belt).

        Brown field is not green field

        Green belt is not not-green belt.

        You can have brown field sites in the green belt and brown field sites not in the green belt.

        You can have green field sites in the green belt, and green field sites not in the green belt.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          And green field can be very easily turned into brown field…

          To take a local example a field (*) on its own is “green field”, as are two fields either side of a road, however, if you include the road/rotting concrete track in the development the parcel of land becomes brown field…

          (*) Size doesn’t seem to be a factor, so think 3,000 homes per “field” and road sub 10 metre wide formation.

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Yes, we've recently had a housing development in the fields surrounding the local sewage farm because it's a brown field development.

  21. Tony W

    Per century?

    What does this amazingly precise number, 98.7 GWh, mean?

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Per century?

      Enough to power eighty one and a half deloreans.

  22. DS999 Silver badge

    Can this really be more cost efficient

    Than installing heat pumps in these houses? Sure the waste heat is "free" but between the cost of installing the piping and the heat loss in the pipe network I'm curious what the numbers say about a 20 year TCO comparison using historic price increases for electricity over the past 20 years.

    The advantage of the heat pumps is that as future improvements in battery technology are made it may eventually make sense to put solar panels on the roof with the batteries able to buffer times when the panels aren't producing. You also don't have to pay to install some sort of district heat plant if the datacenter goes away. Imagine if they'd come up with a similar scheme 50 years ago with a steel plant, assuming that the UK will always be a major steel producer.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Can this really be more cost efficient

      That's ok, the solar panels only last 25 years or so, so they'd have gone to landfill (because to this day that's what happens with old solar panels as landfill is 10x cheaper than recycling) circa 1998 before the steel plant was out of service anyway.

  23. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Just wait until

    they perfect quantum computers running your AI/LLM in the data center.... replace all the servers with 1 box drawing 1Kw......

    But then with that level of computation available to the AI, it will only take 16 Msec before it decides our fate............ see icon

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just wait until

      "m" - Milli

      "M" - Mega

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Just wait until

      The way we will design our AI, it will take just 16 milliseconds to decide to nuke us all, and 16 mega-seconds to design a way to capture the waste heat from the explosions and the cremation of humanity and use it to power more datacenters into which it will replicate.

  24. Cruachan

    This weeks magic bullet to fix everything. Last week it was waste heat from abandonded mine shafts that are full of water.

    If only we could harness all of the hot air coming out of Westminster....

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      "This weeks magic bullet to fix everything."

      True that. UK's politicians are notoriously sh*t at maths. They can only do simple addition, and only if it's money coming their way.

  25. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    The same money spent on subsidising new front doors, replacing useless windows, etc, would probably save much, much more energy.

    And especially "listed" stuff like sash windows need to go. Can't keep looking backwards.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If you aggressively modernise or replace all the old buildings in the name of progress, you end up living in a place like Slough. It's been there for over 800 years and due to constant redevelopment almost nothing remains of its history. It's just bland concrete buildings being knocked down every few years and replaced with new bland concrete buildings.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        I didn't say any of that "aggressive" stuff, did I?

        UK has plenty of old things, heaven knows. You prefer global warming and paying through your nose to doing something, even if the UPVC "sash window" is now a 3-glass look-alike?

        Or would you prefer freezing?

      2. Peter2 Silver badge

        Not really. Take the example of a Victorian style terrace, of which practically every city, town, village and hamlet in the country has at least one row of as it was a standard design built in quantity for at least seventy five years.

        It's stand out features are the brickwork, slate roof (replaced at least half the time with concrete tiles) and the window styles. You could quite happily design an upgrade adding external wall insulation and aggressively roll it out.

        If your worried about the insulation being visible then build another wall in precisely same style of bricks and mortar. Hey presto, you have a property which looks basically no different externally from the original beyond the walls having extended outwards slightly and the insulation standards would have been improved by a large factor.

        I can't see any particular reason that couldn't (or shouldn't) be done.

        1. Jan 0 Silver badge

          That sounds very like my Victorian terrace. I've replaced the gruesome concrete tiles with proper insulation and ceramic pantiles.

          The 77 mm of PIR external insulation* is covered in brick slips, rather than whole bricks.

          Above and beyond, I've replaced the ancient double glazed windows, with Acoya draught sealed wooden sash windows and modern double glazed units.

          There's no reason why our government couldn't facilitate this for whole terraces.

          *More would be better, but Planners don't think that very deep "reveals" are acceptable when the neighbouring houses don't have them. (In an ideal world I'd have used Spacetherm, but until more of us use it, the price will remain eyewatering.)

    2. Peter2 Silver badge

      Then change the conservation & listing rules so they can go.

      Personally, I think a better idea would be to pay professional architects to design a set of sympathetic looking upgrades for commonly built buildings such as Victorian terraces, timber framed houses with wattle & daub walls and thatched roofs and so on, and then set the designs as national standards that councils can't block similar to permitted development.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Sure. but money needs to go into implementing it. Not just architects faffing around. That would delight the Tories, however.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        That is a terrible idea. My father has a very old farm house, timber framed with cob walls. It's a real piece of history. The bathroom, for example, has an authentic 16th Century mullion window made of oak. A rare and irreplaceable fitting that has been there for over 500 years as the house has passed through dozens of owners. Your proposal would allow a homeowner or property developer to destroy that and replace it with a double glazed plastic copy in order to save a few pennies on heating costs. Utter madness.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          UK regulations and VAT rules make it easier and cheaper for the property developer to demolish the current building and build a new pastiche version.

          I refer the reader to the Gleneagles hotel in Harpenden Hertfordshire, where the hotel was totally demolished and replaced by flats with the modern facsia replicating (don’t look too closely and definitely don’t have a photo of the old hotel frontage to compare) the original. This saved the developer 20% VAT on the cost of the (new) build.

  26. Potemkine! Silver badge

    o "fully decarbonise" its campus with air source heat pumps

    Hmm, these heat pumps need electricity to work, so full decarbonisation will be when electricity production will be fully decarbonized.

  27. EBG

    government BS

    The first link (DNZES) quote "One of these successful projects will see .... "

    HTF do you call something a "successful project" when you've only just announced it !?

  28. Luiz Abdala
    Joke

    Way ahead of you.

    I heated my room last winter playing GTA online.

    May I recommend a watercooler AIO with exhaust fans on the front, like my rig, for maximum efficiency.

    Like other people said, I owned the infrastructure, so... no need of pipe laying or the sort, either.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Way ahead of you.

      I'm an Elite fan myself... see you in the black! Thermal management is a core part of that game.

    2. Bbuckley

      Re: Way ahead of you.

      I heated mine running a Bayesian Monte Carlo simulation for my PhD project. Kept my PC as a space-heater for days on end.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why just the local houses. The energy wasted in heat can be used to drive some generator and go back into the grid for all (even back into the data centre)?

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      I don't remember the details, but getting from warm to boiling hot is not an easy process. -it will cost energy. Thermodynamics.

  30. TRT Silver badge

    Why domestic use?

    I mean, agricultural use, no? Warm air can be used in poly tunnels.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Why domestic use?

      Not enough profit potential in agriculture, plus heating homes sounds as if the government cares about the cost of living….

      1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

        Re: Why domestic use?

        The point of green schemes is for them to be seen by the public.

        That's why we don't do the thing that we know will work - drop all subsidies, drop all incentives, drop all green schemes, abolish fuel duty, etc, and set a single flat carbon tax at the social cost of carbon.

  31. Knightlie

    This sounds like something that will generate exciting profits for someone, but leave tenants either sweltering hot or still shivering cold. The former matters, the latter won't.

  32. TrixyB

    HaaaS Heating as a Service from a DC near you.

    The cloud, now with heating as a service. Subscription based of course

  33. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Holmes

    Meanwhile over in the Netherlands

    How the Dutch went down the toilet looking for heat

    Sewage waste is now being seen as a reliable heat source for millions of homes in the Netherlands

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/nov/08/how-the-dutch-went-down-the-toilet-looking-for-heat-sewage

    1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

      Re: Meanwhile over in the Netherlands

      Do you think the eco-fanatics that (at least) direct government would allow the building of something designed to burn things?

  34. Bbuckley

    why wouldn't the data centre use their waste heat for their own purposes - maybe to charge batteries etc.? Why would they give it away to the nanny state?

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