Fortum and Microsoft's data centre project advances climate targets
Data volumes and digitalization are growing everywhere. To accommodate this, data centre operators are looking for the best locations to build more data centers. In the Finnish capital region, Fortum and Microsoft plan to take sustainability to an entirely new level by heating buildings with excess heat from new data centers. This will reduce emissions from heating on a massive scale.
Data centers provide heat to district heating customers
In the Espoo Clean Heat programme, Fortum’s district heat in Finland will be produced coal-free by 2025 and carbon-neutrally before 2030. A significant part of the programme’s targets can be achieved by utilising the waste heat from Microsoft's large-scale data centers.
In terms of climate change mitigation and energy efficiency, it makes most sense to locate large data centers in places where the waste heat generated by the cooling of the servers can be captured and used, for example, for district heating to as many customers as possible. Therefore the location of the data centers require proximity to a district heating network, a large enough plot, access to a secure supply of carbon-neutral electricity and a strong data network.
The locations of Microsoft's data centers were chosen with this in mind. Microsoft is planning to build a data centre region in the cities of Espoo and Kirkkonummi, where it can eventually provide 40 percent of all district heat needed in the area. Recycling excess heat from emissions-free electricity used by the data centers will significantly mitigate the region’s total emissions and helps to keep district heating price competitive.
The project is one of a kind: there is no data centre heat recovery concept of a similar scale anywhere else in the world.
Transferring excess heat from data centers to buildings
Data centre project benefits:
Reduces emissions from heating
Supports the economy and employment
Increases recreational opportunities
Emissions-free electricity makes district heating cleaner
Fortum already produces district heating by utilising the waste heat from Espoo’s waste water treatment process and from three smaller data centers. Microsoft's planned data centers would enable the phase out of all coal and some gas in the region’s district heating network.
Microsoft along with other leading data centre operators also aim to reduce their own carbon footprint – and the easiest way to do that is by using zero-emission electricity. If waste heat from data centers is available for use in district heating network, fossil fuel-based heat can be replaced with heat from clean electricity, and the overall role of clean electricity grows. This increases not only Fortum's but also Microsoft's sustainability even further.
The planned data centers require plenty of secure electricity and will have a direct power supply from Finland's electricity transmission grid, provided by Fingrid.
Important project for the regional wellbeing
Microsoft's data centre region not only supports climate targets but also further digitization of businesses and the whole society. They enhance local employment as well. Massive data centre investments will create local jobs and new training opportunities. A large data centre typically employs directly 100-300 people with various educational backgrounds. Indirectly, the number of new jobs is manifold – and even higher during the construction phase.
Biodiversity is extremely important for Fortum, Microsoft and the cities of Espoo and Kirkkonummi. Great efforts have been made to accommodate biodiversity needs and new development as sustainably as possible. Recreational areas have also been maintained or even improved around the data centre region.
Read more about data centers
Data centers and district heating – a perfect match
We are at the intersection of two global megatrends: digitalization and the energy transition. The demand for cloud services keeps growing and new data centers are built around the world at an increasing pace. At the same time, we seek new solutions to replace fossil fuels across the energy system, as well as in other areas. In achieving carbon neutrality in the energy system, the concept of circular economy is particularly attractive.
How do data centers impact the climate?
Data volumes are growing exponentially worldwide, and the use of cloud services is on the rise. This will quickly expand the need for powerful data centers. Finland has excellent opportunities to mitigate the climate impacts of digitalization: we can offer data centers clean electricity and use the waste heat generated by the centers to replace coal-based heat production.
Espoo Clean Heat
Fortum and the City of Espoo have committed to carbon-neutral district heating during the 2020s in the network that operates in the Espoo, Kauniainen and Kirkkonummi regions. The development work has since been accelerated with an intermediate goal to discontinue the use of coal in 2025. The accelerated project for carbon-neutrality in 2020's is called Espoo Clean Heat.
Director, Industrial Heat Recovery, Heating and Cooling Finland
ilkka [dot] toijala [at] fortum [dot] com