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Exploring new waters for data centre cooling

Global energy and technology group Octopus Energy has announced a £200m (AU$385m) investment in new technology that uses data centres to heat public swimming pools, district heating systems, distilleries and large apartment blocks across the UK.

The technology, pioneered by a company called Deep Green, uses heat generated by processing data to provide free heat for energy-intensive organisations such as leisure centres. The computers – supplied and installed by Deep Green – are immersed in mineral oil, which captures heat. This is then transferred to cold pool water via a heat exchanger, reducing the need for heating from gas boilers.

According to Deep Green, this system can reduce the gas required to heat a pool by more than 62 per cent. One of the first centres to use the technology, the Exmouth Swimming Pool in Devon in the UK, has reduced its pool heating bill by more than 60 per cent.

By transferring waste heat from the computers to the water, Deep Green also provides free cooling to the data centre, giving it a significant competitive edge over traditional set-ups. According to Octopus Energy, this allows it to offer more affordable, highly energy efficient computing to businesses across the UK.

Deep Green’s current customers include York University, and the company has signed partnerships with cloud native service provider Civo and high-performance computing specialist Alces Flight, who offer the servers to their customers.

Octopus Energy says that because the Deep Green data centres are installed onsite, they don’t require additional grid upgrades or planning permission and can be up and running in weeks.

“To tackle the energy crisis head-on, we need innovative solutions to unusual problems,” says CEO of Octopus Energy Generation Zoisa North-Bond.

“By using excess heat from data centres to slash energy bills for communities across the UK, [it] solves two problems with one solution. We’re looking forward to rapidly rolling this out and positively impacting even more people as we drive towards a cleaner, cheaper energy future.”

Deep Green founder and CEO Mark Bjornsgaard has also applauded the investment.

“We are thrilled with Octopus’ commitment to support our next phase of growth,” he says. “Placing data centres within the fabric of society transforms the waste heat they produce into a valuable resource that benefits communities.

“The data centre sector is rightly facing scrutiny about its growing energy demand and associated carbon emissions. Our data centres are highly energy efficient and support local communities with free heat.”

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