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Amazon’s Seattle campus is using a data center next door as a furnace (vox.com)
75 points by ehllo on Nov 24, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

Waste heat usage has been a thing since around the time we invented the steam engine.

Regenerative heating was in fact key to the first industrial revolution, it was the only way to make blast furnaces with high enough temperature and power.

It's only recently that datacenter power usage (and thus waste heat) has become large enough for waste heat usage to be interesting.

Since before the steam engine even:


I'm pretty sure my college used the heat product from its cogeneration plant on campus to heat our buildings and dorms. Actually, that was probably already a thing when Bezos was a student there.

A lot of colleges use cogeneration plants. Almost nobody else does. From what I understand, it nearly doubles the total efficiency of burning coal, though the output is not more electricity but heat. The physics is pretty simple as explained by the Carnot cycle [1]:

Efficiency <= 1 - Tc / Th, where Tc is the cold exhaust temperature and Th is the hot temperature. This is of course a theoretical ideal engine.

The issue is that for something like a coal or oil or gas plant, Tc is still damn hot. Something like 900 degrees F is common. It's too low to use for a second cycle of electricity usage, but it's still plenty hot to heat your living room.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_efficiency#Carnot_effi...

A good portion of Manhattan has a steam system that's partially fed by cogeneration.

I have a winter cabin up in the mountains near Seattle, which so happens to have some of the cheapest electricity in the world. (there are quite a few cryptocurrency mines nearby) Though we generally heat the place using a modern, efficient wood stove, I've half seriously been pondering buying a few graphics cards and doing some Ethereum mining to heat the basement. If I wasn't a bit scared about it setting the place on fire I'd probably do it, but pretty sure I'd end up heating the place for free after a season.

Have you ever considered a Rocket Mass Heater? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_mass_heater) I've been fascinated by them since I found out about the concept but renting inside a city has never given me the chance to try one out.

These are definitely interesting, kind of have to build your house around one though.

We currently use a wood stove that uses a catalytic combuster, so actually reburns the smoke for even more heat. Silly efficiency and almost no particulate matter so passes even the most stringent environmental laws. Its actually one the greenest ways to heat a place like ours. (it only heats the main living area though, we use small space heaters for bedrooms downstairs)

A wetback powering distant radiators is what I want to do. It’s just that the radiators look ugly and aren’t easily removed in summer.

I am building one right now for my shed.

Roughly where is said cabin? Sounds like a nice place & I'm in the market.

Are there any data centers up that way, by chance?

There are a few, though perhaps things are changing up there: http://www.govtech.com/dc/articles/High-Capacity-Data-Center...

IBM/GIB-Services used a DC to heat a municipal swimming pool in 2008: http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2008/04/02/data-...

Technical University Munich has been doing this since at least 2011 to heat half of their campus: https://www.lrz.de/services/compute/supermuc/systemdescripti... (see section on warm water cooling)

FB is doing something similar in Denmark, heating 6900 homes: http://www.decentralized-energy.com/articles/2017/09/faceboo...

See Nerdalize[0]

From their site: Heat your home with cloud servers!

The CloudBox contains powerful servers, used by companies and researchers for their computations. The produced heat is used to heat up the water in your home. You get free hot water and save on your gas bill. And you contribute to an enormous reduction of CO2 emissions!

I think that’s a really nice concept!

[0] https://www.nerdalize.com/heating/

Imagine how great it would be if we lived in a society where our homes were easily hooked up with internet fast enough to run servers from home? Must be nice.

I think it will be pretty limited usage too considering if you want it to access database on the same local network.

This will be more useful for computationally heavy usages with minimal data transfers.

How fast would it need to be? Would a Google fiber style 1Gb up and down connection be plenty for a single rack of servers?

If it was a workload like bitcoin it would not need a fast connection at all. You could ship it with a copy of the Blockchain and it would download the delta after you turn it on.

But then what about your own use?

Dev 1: it's kinda cold in the office, should we call ops?

Dev 2: naaa, just spin up a cluster if c5.18xls

Reminds me of this old Daily WTF: http://thedailywtf.com/articles/Just-a-WarmUp

Thanks for sharing, that was good for a laugh.

Telus, the big phone company and ISP in British Columbia, does this in downtown Vancouver[1].

IIRC, I first heard about this in Work Like Nature[2][3]

[1]: http://www.vancouversun.com/g00/technology/telus+million+dev...

[2]: https://leanpub.com/worklikenature

[3]: I have a double conflict of interest here. The author is my wife, and Leanpub is my startup.

Wonder if it's feasible to sell Bitcoin mining rigs doubling as a heat generator... for what its worth they could pay themselves.

I have a friend who is heating his home exclusively with mining rigs this winter. I'm not sure what he plans to do next summer.

I'm doing this right now; in the summer I just run the AC and the rigs still outcompete my power bill by about 2x

That's great to know! I wasn't sure how the AC cost would work out.

I live in Memphis, TN. We enjoy cheap power at a rate of .0909USD per kWh

Whats your build?

Home made GPU array of AMD cards mining mostly Dagger Hashimoto and Cryptonight algorithms

Bikram yoga studio?

I know someone who has a pair of old mining rigs. They were used as heaters over winter. They didn’t make enough to cover their electrical bill but they took most of the cost of heating away. It’s the fan noise that would bug me.

This Russian startup designed a heater that mines Ether:


They already do:


I actually would love to heat my basement area with a mining rig. Last time I mined stuff was before ASICs for BitCoin were a thing. Is it possible to GPU mine stuff nowadays in a way that's even remotely profitable, when you count the savings on heat? My current electric rate is just under $0.095.

Relevant: Bitcoin Boiler


Just went a few days ago to the TU Delft incubator and they showed us the whole building gets hot water with a bunch of servers doing intense calculations. The startup that places these servers has really low prices for cloud computing because of this.

Using things that need cooling, datacenters, factories, mines, ... has a very long history.

A dot-com back in the last 90s that a friend of mine ran with a Sun E10K proposed selling the hot air to a pizza restaurant that was next door.

The restaurant ended up declining because air was too dirty and could not be for cooking.

Haha, I remembered that people have proposed that solution many times and I was about to ask what changed before reading the comments.

CHP was invented about an hour after the steam engine. FFS.

Dealing with waste has been an issue we've been dealing with since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

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