Nowadays, data drives nearly everything. We often talk about “the cloud,” but the data is really located in data centers, and these data centers are big energy consumers – or have been up to now. MIRIS, a real estate development company, working with Norwegian architects Snøhetta, believe we can turn this around with data centers that produce more energy than they use.
The Spark Could Power Cities With Up to 18,000 Inhabitants
The designers say that the new-style data center, dubbed the Spark, could power cities with up to 18,000 inhabitants. The concept was born from the findings of a study which looked at worldwide energy consumption. According to the researchers, 40 percent of the world’s energy is used to power buildings, and two percent of the energy used already goes to data centers.
As cities become increasingly data-driven, this energy need is expected to rise – unless data centers themselves can become buildings that generate energy. By changing the way we think about data centers, a sustainable concept could become an urban reality.
«The heat generated by data centers represents a huge untapped potential in terms of energy capture that we wanted to explore further. By efficiently and sustainably exploiting excess energy that would otherwise go to waste, we can use technology to generously support health, recreation and the environment», says Founding Partner at Snøhetta, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen.
Data Centers as Energy Producers
Until now, data centers have been sited outside urban centers, but MIRIS and its partners believe that locating them in the heart of cities is a far more sustainable solution.
After all, data centers generate a great deal of heat which, up till now, has gone to waste. If the heat is channeled to surrounding buildings, it will reduce their energy consumption. Meanwhile, solar panels could generate the energy the data center itself needs, thereby making it an energy producer rather than an energy consumer.
According to the prototype designers, one data center could provide enough heat to keep public facilities like gyms or spas comfortable, help to keep industrial premises in hot water or heated air, or heat residential homes and apartments.
Once the air has cooled, it can be returned to the data center to fulfill its cooling requirements before the now-heated air is cycled back into the loop.
Pilot Project Will Demonstrate the “Energy Positive City” Concept
So far, it’s a case of a concept that looks good on paper, but MIRIS and its partners are determined to prove that their concept can work. The city of Os, south of Bergen, will put the concept to the test. A sustainable Spark data center will form the hub of the new Lysparken business park, a development that could be viewed as a mini-city.
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The design also takes the sustainability of building materials into account. After all, a building’s carbon footprint is also determined by the emissions needed for producing construction materials and in erecting the structure. Thus, the design minimizes the use of materials such as concrete and will make use of low-embodied materials like wood.
Should the pilot project perform in accordance with the expectations of its designers, Lysparken will be the first energy positive development to successfully demonstrate a concept that could be applied to entire cities. Snøhetta envisions a world in which “Power Cities” based on its concept are used to take care of the energy needs of inhabitants and even generate more energy than the city itself needs.