Microsoft cloud region in Finland to take part in district heating scheme

Microsoft Fortum District Heating

Fortum and Microsoft have announced a collaboration project whereby Fortum will capture the excess heat generated by a new Microsoft cloud region in the Helsinki metropolitan area in Finland.

The data centres will use 100 per cent emission-free electricity, and Fortum will transfer the clean heat from the server cooling process to homes, services and business premises that are connected to its district heating system. According to the announcement, the waste heat recycling concept from the data centre region will be the largest of its kind in the world.

The concept is unique in that the location for the data centre region was chosen specifically with waste heat recycling in mind. It makes use of Fortum’s existing district heating infrastructure, the second-largest in Finland, for heat capture and distribution. The infrastructure includes about 900km of underground pipes that transfer heat to approximately 250,000 users in the cities of Espoo and Kauniainen and the municipality of Kirkkonummi. Fortum has collaborated with the local cities and municipalities for several years in order to pave the way for these investments. 

Markus Rauramo, president and CEO of Fortum, said: “Developing solutions for the global climate challenge together with partners is a strategic priority for Fortum, and we are proud to embark on this exceptional journey together with Microsoft. Sometimes the most sustainable solutions are simple ones: By tapping into waste heat from data centres, we can provide clean heat for homes, businesses and public buildings in Espoo’s and the neighbouring communities’ district heating network in Finland, and reduce about 400,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. This is a significant step for a cleaner world, made possible by our joint ambition to mitigate climate change.”

District heating is the most popular method of heating premises in Finland. A district heating system is used in cities to generate and capture heat and distribute it to buildings on a large scale. Heat is transferred in hot water that is pumped through pre-insulated underground pipes. The new generation of district heating is based on replacing fossil fuels with smart and flexible solutions, such as renewable electricity, heat pumps and waste heat utilisation. Artificial intelligence will optimise the operations of the entire system. 

Once the new data centre region’s waste heat capture is in operation, a total of about 60 per cent of the area’s heating will be generated by climate-friendly waste heat. Of this, 40 per cent results from the data centre region and the rest from other waste heat sources such as purified wastewater.

“The decision to invest in a data centre that also provides surplus heat to our cities and homes is a win-win. It will accelerate Finland’s digital growth while making our energy system greener. I also hope that this collaboration can serve as a model to other countries and cities looking for the means to achieve the double transformation of climate neutrality and digital competitiveness,” said Sanna Marin, prime minister of Finland.

The joint project takes place at the intersection of two megatrends: digitalisation and the energy transition. Fortum and Microsoft say that they are bringing together world-leading expertise and innovation in heating, energy efficiency solutions and cloud technology and support the growth and competitiveness of the Helsinki metropolitan area, and of Finland, through sustainable decarbonisation and digitalisation. 

“Finland is at the forefront of digitalisation and innovation, and the nation’s world-class companies and forward-looking public sector organisations are leading in the digital transformation of their sectors,” says Cindy Rose, president of Microsoft Western Europe. “We are incredibly proud of the novel way this data centre will sustainably power Finnish digital transformation, while also heating Finnish homes and businesses and helping cities achieve their emissions targets. In this unique collaboration, Microsoft and Fortum combine their world-leading expertise in cloud computing and sustainable energy solutions, transforming the design thinking of data centres of the future.” 

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