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Amazon: Heat From Data Centers Will Be Used as a Furnace (vox.com) 52

Vox reports on Amazon's recent push for "corporate sustainability": It plans to have 15 rooftop solar systems, with a total capacity of around 41 MW, deployed atop fulfillment centers by the end of this year, with plans to have 50 such systems installed by 2020. Amazon was the lead corporate purchaser of green energy in 2016. That year, it also announced its largest wind energy project to date, the 253 MW Amazon Wind Farm Texas. Overall, the company says, it has "announced or commenced construction on wind and solar projects that will generate a total of 3.6 million megawatt hours (MWh) of renewable energy annually."
But here's the most interesting part. GeekWire reports: Amazon is moving ahead with a unique plan to use heat generated from data centers in the nearby Westin Building to warm some of its new buildings downtown. The system transfers the heat from the data centers via water piped underground to the Amazon buildings. The water is then returned to the Westin Building once it's cooled down to help cool the data centers. The setup will be unusual. "Certainly there are other people using waste heat from server farms but you don't hear a lot about tying it in with buildings across the street from each other," said Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien.
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Amazon: Heat From Data Centers Will Be Used as a Furnace

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  • Not new (Score:5, Informative)

    by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Sunday November 26, 2017 @07:50PM (#55626867)

    >"But here's the most interesting part. GeekWire reports: Amazon is moving ahead with a unique plan to use heat generated from data centers in the nearby Westin Building to warm some of its new buildings downtown. The system transfers the heat from the data centers via water piped underground to the Amazon buildings"

    Factories and businesses that generate waste heat have been doing that for at least two centuries now, all over the world. Where I work, some 80 years ago they ran waste heat steam lines from the laundry building to other places on the campus, including 1/4 mile away for some residences. Data centers have also been doing it in many places for many years both on and off capus. http://www.datacenterknowledge... [datacenterknowledge.com]

    It is great to hear, but really nothing new.

    • GeekWire reports: Amazon is moving ahead with a unique plan ...

      Factories and businesses that generate waste heat have been doing that for at least two centuries now, all over the world. ...>

      It is great to hear, but really nothing new.

      here is another no new thing - modern self styled "geeks"/"nerds"/"technophiles"/etc(and most of others), especially those who write/edit for public consumption, are illiterate on all subjects except highly abstracted, designed to death, interfaces of modern tech.
      they stand on shoulders of giants, but can't see the giants and never heard of them.

      • Correct, sir. I was looking for info on Fukushima to get an update a few days ago and ran across an RT video. The anchor and anti-nuke expert that they had on knew way too much and knew way too many questions for me to be comfortable. Maybe that's just a normalcy bias.

        And while we're talking about nukes, Chernobyl NPP had a steam system that went all throughout the adjoining town and provided the buildings with heat.

        Just like college campuses have been doing for, what, A HUNDRED PLUS YEARS? Central steam
    • Re:Not new (Score:4, Interesting)

      by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Sunday November 26, 2017 @08:28PM (#55627001) Journal
      You know, really, there's very little new under the sun; but when a company with worldwide impact adopts an energy strategy that's efficient and progressive, my hat's off to them.

      They don't have to care about the conservation of resources, and yet, they do.

      Measure this against countless corporate juggernauts who give less than a damn.

      • Re:Not new (Score:4, Insightful)

        by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Sunday November 26, 2017 @09:55PM (#55627229)

        >"They don't have to care about the conservation of resources, and yet, they do."

        In this particular example, however, there is nothing altruistic about it- using waste heat just makes economic sense. Unless, of course, there is so little heat that paying for the infrastructure to reuse it doesn't make sense. Doing the "right" thing often is right for many reasons. It is the best kind of right.

        Just like what primarily drives solar, wind, and other renewables. We can believe it is for some "save the earth" type concept, or we can know for a fact that it points the way to national energy independence, reduces dependence on a fragile grid, lessens foreign violence, and is actually a good investment as it never runs out and won't see ever increasing costs.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Rei ( 128717 )

          If it "just makes economic sense", why does the US do it so little? This is one thing I never got about the US. You drive through a city (or the countryside around one) and there's factories and powerplants belching clouds of hot steam on a winter's day, and then all over the same city you have people burning natural gas to heat their homes. I mean, what the heck, America?

          Here in Iceland we produce power from geothermal water, which means a thermal power plant, like any other. But once the water's gone t

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            Because gas lobbies to maintain it's effective monopoly. To make use of that waste heat would require new infrastructure, which the gas supplier would do everything in their power to resist it.

            Interference in this process is considered socialism, or even communism by many Americans. The free market has decided that burning gas is the correct solution.

          • Much of Manhattan in New York City has long been heated by waste heat steam from the power company (ConEd).
        • The sad part is so few understand the limitations that exergy places on us..

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • They don't have to care about the conservation of resources, and yet, they do.

        nope, it's 'green washing' to make themselves look good and distract from the awful treatment they deal to their workforce...

        http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/u... [mirror.co.uk]

      • by Anonymous Coward

        What is this other than a virtue-signalling press release? I mean, good job to Amazon for being thrifty, but the real reason is that they can heat their own buildings and probably charge a fee or come into some agreement with another business that needs heat. Meanwhile, it let's a bunch of naive pawns feel good in their tum-tums and turn a blind eye to Amazon's monopolistic business practices and scorn for it's own employees. It's a beautiful thing but don't buy too much into the marketing press releases

    • Industrial waste heat too. For example in my home town, waste heat from a trash incineration facility is combined with waste heat from chemical plant Akzo Nobel, and provides a number of homes & other buildings in the area with heating and hot water. Overview here:

      Warmtenet Hengelo [warmtenethengelo.nl]

      There exist many similar projects in my country & elsewhere.

    • Re:Not new (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Monday November 27, 2017 @12:23AM (#55627627) Homepage Journal

      The colorado school of mines (i.e. MIT of the midwest) is heated largely by waste heat from the nearby Coors (yes that Coors) brewery. They run the steam vents under major sidewalks to help keep them clear of water and ice during the winter. Pretty cool to show up on campus and there's one sidewalk that's just bone dry all the time with green grass on either side. This has been going on since at least the 1950s, probably much earlier.

      • by jbengt ( 874751 )
        Steam runs at a considerably higher temperature than CPUs, though, making it more practical to use waste heat from Coors than from a data center.
        Also, in my experience, the melting snow on the sidewalks is just a side-effect of the minimal insulation of the steam pipes in the steam tunnels.
    • Yep, nothing new. Lived in Moscow for a while, where their power stations heat water and pump it all over the city for heating and hot water. It's very effective even in -30C. One problem is that in old buildings, i.e. most of them, the radiators are so old that the valves on them are seized. You can't turn the radiators off and so if you get too hot, you have to open a window or two. It's not uncommon to see a lot of open windows on old apartment buildings during the freezing Moscow winters.

      BTW, here's a l

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 26, 2017 @07:52PM (#55626875)

    "Certainly there are other people using waste heat from server farms but you don't hear a lot about tying it in with buildings across the street from each other" ummm no, this is actually the common use case when heating buildings from datacenter waste heat, in fact I can't think of an example where it was anything but this type of setup (I am sure there are but they would not be the norm as most datacenters don't have large office spaces in to make it worthwhile)

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Sunday November 26, 2017 @08:46PM (#55627065)

    And it has been used for typical city-wide distances for a long time. Where the heat comes form is unimportant as long as it is available with reasonable dependability or there are fallback alternate heat sources. This whole system was probably available from a catalog already. May have been an European catalog, but still.

    • by dj245 ( 732906 )

      And it has been used for typical city-wide distances for a long time. Where the heat comes form is unimportant as long as it is available with reasonable dependability or there are fallback alternate heat sources. This whole system was probably available from a catalog already. May have been an European catalog, but still.

      These kinds of systems are usually 1-off designs, even in Europe. The engineering calculations are fairly trivial and most of the components are commodity items such as piping, heat exchangers, pumps, etc. Bidding and designing such a project is not that difficult, if sufficient space is available for equipment. Projects constrained by land use or existing infrastructure are considerably more difficult. Executing the project is the tricky part- it requires good project management from the beginning to t

  • http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/u... [mirror.co.uk]

    Monstrous working conditions. SCREW AMAZON!

  • Although as others have noted people have been using waste heat from all sorts of things for a long time in similar ways, I was wondering - why are there not more buildings that sit on top of the data centers to use heat? It seems like it would be possible to use the heat even more directly. In particular, a greenhouse on top of a data center in colder climates would seem like a nice mixture.

    • A greenhouse would probably compromise your ability to use the roof space for solar PV; a bit of a balancing act would be required to see where the cost-benefit fell.
      • You could still use the land around for solar (which most do already anyway) , and you can make greenhouse glass that contains a translucent solar power material [planetsave.com] to gain some energy from it - probably not as efficient as full panels but close enough to make the project worthwhile, not to mention you would have a lot more surface area generating electricity from a dome than just panels on a roof.

  • by starblazer ( 49187 ) on Sunday November 26, 2017 @09:25PM (#55627147) Homepage
    It's the holiday season... so AMAZON IN THE NEWS!!! AMAZON IS DOING GLOBAL GOOD!!!! AMAZON IS DOING X, Y, AND Z!!!

    All this Amazon press is just keeping their name in your brain so you shop there during the Christmas season.

    As others have said, this isn't new.
  • 3.6 million megawatt hours (MWh) of renewable energy annually

    The power industry seems to act like there's a law that says they have to somehow include an "hours" factor in every physical quantity they discuss.

    Why not just call it what it is: an average of 411 megawatts.

    • I can think of a reason for using "watt hours per year" other than that it's what people are used to from their electric bill. I hear "watts" and think instantaneous power, or at least an average over a period no longer than one second. But the familiar renewable power sources (wind and solar) are anything but constant over the course of a day or year, making use of an instantaneous power measurement misleading. The "watt hours per year" unit emphasizes that a power measurement is a long-term average.

  • It is not a new idea even in computing.

    In 1981, I worked a summer job at Charter Information Corp. in Austin TX. They'd recently moved to Austin from Woburn MA. They were a small data processing service bureau, and ran a Xerox Sigma 6 computer.

    In Massachusetts, they'd run a duct, with a valve, from the waste heat outflow from the Sigma 6 cooling system to their building HVAC ducts. They had NEVER had to light their oil burner for office heat in the winter: waste heat from the Sigma 6 was more than adequa

  • Assuming you want to keep your CPUs under 45 C then the returning water will be at most 37 - 40 C. I would guess closer to 37C. You then pipe it a couple of km and assuming no loss then you are heating a building to 21 or 22 C. Usually your return water on your home radiator is close 40 C, so warmer than input temperature Amazon will provide. It's do able but you would be pumping so much water that I'm not sure it works. I guess if you add in a heat pump? Still by the time you count the power pumping
    • I worked many years in the Westin building. By 2001 all the lawyers, consuls and misc office drones had been pushed out and the telcos, isps and several big name startups had to find cheaper office space since it was damn near all being converted to datacenter. The parking garage lost several floors to generators and cooling overflow and the roof top looked like a fucking torch in the infrared. Seattle internet exchange started in the Westin (1997 ish) using a sparc 10 and a dumb hub and a couple of cat-3

    • by ruddk ( 5153113 )

      Yes, they often use heat pumps when using heat in municipal heating systems that has been generated in a factory. It is very efficient.

      Apple are building a new datacenter here in Denmark and wants to deliver the produced heat to the already existing municipal heating.
      They ran into some tax problems and I don't know if they have been resolved. The heat became a product from the company that they were selling and the taxes made it too expensive, at least that were their story.
      http://appleinsider.com/articl... [appleinsider.com]

    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      I guess if you add in a heat pump? Still by the time you count the power pumping the water your gain is going to be marginal.

      A heat pump working against merely warm water is in a much better situation than a heat pump working against cold outside air and it cools the return water. The water has to be pumped whether the heat pump is used or not and with it, the flow rate may be lowered significantly.

      I remember one cold wave we had in southern California when we lived in an all electric house with a heat pump. That was a miserable situation.

  • At least here in Finland piping hot water into buildings is a common form of heating in the cities, and there are experiments in using the same system for cooling in the summer. There is nothing particularly special in the idea of plugging as server farm as a heat source.

  • Man has changed the albedo of the Earth and will continue to do so. There should be a total accounting of sources of heat rise on the Earth, including the effect of the heat retention of growing cities, roads and technologies like solar panels. (You may laugh here)

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