Monday, 15 June 2009

Canals cool data centres

It's not news, but I've only just come across this novel use for canals. As one who lives close to Britain's canal network (and the reservoirs that feed them), it is particularly interesting.

Anyway, it seems that pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is using canal water and heat exchange technology to provide cooling for the data centre at its West London HQ, rather than traditional air conditioning. The target is to reduce the company's head office CO2 emissions by 920 tonnes a year.

The initiative is in partnership with British Waterways, which manages the canals, and because water is returned to the canal slightly warmer, there has had to be an environmental analysis and consent from the Environmental Agency.

It suggests a potential new lease of life for Britain's 200 year old canal network and potentially a total of 2,200 miles of canals and rivers could be used in this way. British Waterways estimates that a further 1,000 waterside businesses nationwide could follow the company's lead by using canal water for heating or cooling. This would result in annual energy savings of £100m and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions of approximately one million tonnes, the equivalent to some 400,000 family sized cars being taken off the roads.

I guess the down side is that canals and rivers are used extensively for leisure activities so building data centres on the banks would not be ideal. But they do pass through towns where buildings would not be a problem. In any case, British Waterways is concerned about dissolved oxygen levels and the impact on the local canal environment, so there is a limit on capacity to balance the local ecology.

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