Data centres are known to be both major users of electricity and major generators of heat. These issues are set to become more problematic as cloud computing becomes more widespread.
While IT giants such as Amazon and Apple are increasingly turning to renewables for their data centre power needs, the demand is nevertheless placing increasing strain on the system. [Engerati-Apple Generates its Own Power for Data Centres and Apple and Amazon Commit Big To Solar Power]. For example, in the US to meet the expected demand of data centres in 2020 will require the equivalent of approximately 50 large power stations. [Engerati-US Data Centres Can Save US$3 billion By Reducing Power Wastage]
Free heat from cloud computing
With the aim to exploit the heat potential, which to now has hardly or if at all been done, as well as avoiding the overheads of a full-scale data centre, startups in France and the Netherlands are starting to disrupt this space with the concept of embedding distributed cloud microprocessors in internet-connected radiators for heating buildings.
In France, Qarnot has launched the Q.rad, which offers 600GFlops of computing power and provides 500W of heat. This will heat up a 14 to 30m2 room in a building meeting modern insulation standards, the company claims.
In the Netherlands, Nerdalize has launched the Nerdalize heater with a 1kW power capacity.
Smart home platform
Qarnot’s Q.rad also provides a smart home platform, coming embedded with sensors for air quality, noise and presence monitoring among others, and interfaces including touchscreen and wireless and USB charging. Communication options include wi-fi, Bluetooth and Ethernet.
Under both company’s models the electricity costs of running the heaters are refunded to the user, being paid for by the users of their cloud services.
The Q.rad has been under trial in more than 100 French households since 2014 and initially Qarnot is focussing on installations in buildings with a minimum of 20 units. The system is expected to become available to individuals in 2017.
The Nerdalize is under trial with the Dutch supplier Eneco, but a formal release date is yet to be made.
In order to ensure the microprocessors stay up to date, both companies promise replacements on a 3 to 5-year timescale.
Seasonality and security
A key user question is what happens during the summer. In Qarnot’s case the computing capacity is minimized using low power modes and by choosing adapted deployment sites. The Nerdalize heater expels excess heat to the outside when heating isn’t required.
Another key question pertains to the security of the systems and both companies offer full encryption. Qarnot notes that no storage takes place in the Q.rad. In the case of the Nerdalize heater, the device will stop working if a tamper is detected and also a remote wipe can be performed.
Interest in and support for this concept is growing. Nerdalize is also working with Yes!Delft, which provides start-up support, and the Climate-KIC partnership.
Qarnot has won several technology awards and was selected as one of 30 European startups for support from the SME instrument of the Horizon 2020 programme. Most recently the European data centre specialist DATA4 Group has acquired a stake in Qarnot to support its growth in France and more broadly in Europe.