Turns out there was a better alternative to simply blowing cold air at the problem: GIB and IBM devised a direct heat exchange between the datacenter and local public swimming pool. Yes, the people of the town can now enjoy a swim in water warmed up for free by the datacenter's heat waste.
The green payoff here is pretty evident. The town is saving money by longer paying to heat its pool. GIB earns CSR (corporate social responsibility) points. As for the environmental benefits: "Through reclaiming the heat, approximately 130 tons of carbon emissions can be saved. This corresponds to the CO2 discharge of mid-size cars driving 500,000 miles," Sams says. "It's a nice solution. It's obviously a terrific example of the private sector and the public sector working toward each other's mutual benefit."
In addition, the approach demonstrates that you don't need to start from scratch with a new datacenter facility or office building to make use of heat waste. The public pool clearly had its water-heating system in place before GIB and IBM built this new datacenter -- yet they were still able to connect the two to reap the aforementioned benefits.
Talkin' 'bout co-generation
Here's one more example of an organization harnessing its heat waste for reuse: NetApp, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., has a rather different approach to reusing heat waste: cooling its datacenter hardware.
In NetApp's case, that heat isn't coming from its IT equipment, it's coming from its natural gas-powered co-generation system. The system is used to produce electricity for the 1MW datacenter -- though only when the temperature and energy prices in California peak. When the system is running, it produces heat waste, which NetApp uses to power its adsorption chiller that chills the water used in its cooling system.
According to NetApp, the co-generation system has an overall efficiency rating of 75 percent to 85 percent (compared to the 35 percent efficiency for a natural-gas utility). NetApp says its co-generation system saves the company $300,000 annually.
We'll no doubt continue to see approaches to reusing heat waste evolve. Perhaps, soon, there will be a way to efficiently transform it into power for the datacenter. Even today, though, there's already a potential ROI, both in terms of economic and environmental benefits.