Swimming pool heated by data center's excess heat

2,800 megawatts of wasted heat put to good use

Swimmers in Zurich, Switzerland, will enjoy a nice toasty pool this summer, thanks to a most unusual power source. Excess heat from an underground data center built inside a former military bunker is being collected and transferred to the nearby pool as part of an innovative energy efficiency project undertaken by GIB-Services, a Swiss IT co-location company.

The bunker, capable of withstanding a nuclear bomb, was built in 1971 on the outskirts of Zurich to protect the Swiss Army communications team and has been out of use for several years. Accessible through a woodland path in the middle of a forest and built 7 meters underground, the shelter was purchased by GIB three years ago and turned into a data center in a project completed within the last few weeks. Because the data center generates so much heat, GIB negotiated with local government officials to pump heat to an indoor facility with several swimming pools, according to IBM, which designed and built the data center for GIB.

The pool is being closed temporarily for repairs this summer, at which time the heat transfer system will be put in place, says GIB-Services CEO Hans-Rudolf Scharer.

"It isn't so complicated," Scharer says, explaining that water is used to transfer the heat. "We pump hot water to the swimming pool."

That's not the actual water people swim in, though. Instead, excess heat generated by data center computers is collected in a storage area, where it heats up water that is piped to a heat exchanger at the pool facility. There, the heated water raises the temperature of the pool water. The process repeats itself as often as necessary with the heat exchanger, true to its name, exchanging heat from one part of the water to another.

The GIB data center will open to collocation customers in May and will have 300 to 500 customer servers across the facility's 200 square meters when at full capacity. The center is expected to create 2,800 megawatts of wasted heat each year, some of which will be reused by the pool heating program.

IBM helped GIB build the data center as part of Project Big Green, IBM's US$1 billion initiative to reduce energy use by Big Blue and its customers. IBM has recently announced several projects including the GIB one. IBM also built a green data center for Telecom Egypt and one for an Austrian furniture company called Kika/Leiner.

With more efficient building design and up-to-date server technology, energy costs can typically be reduced by 50 percent when a company builds a new data center or even retrofits an existing one, says Steve Sams, IBM's vice president of site and facilities services.

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