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  • Writer's pictureNiina Ojala

A swimming pool heated by an animation movie

A unique idea can make apartment buildings and swimming pools more environmentally friendly

Servers, which generate a lot of waste heat as a by-product, are placed in buildings where heat is needed – this is the idea in a highly simplified form that the new energy company Vatajankoski and greentech startup Kuulea are implementing together. The companies create decentralized data centers and sell computing capacity to one customer group and heat to another.

Servers in data centers always use a lot of electricity, which converts into heat. Such waste heat is usually not utilized in traditional large and centralized data centers but must be transferred to the sky or sea. There the heat is a disadvantage rather than a benefit.

For Vatajankoski and Kuulea, heat is not a problem. They place the servers in places where the heat is fed directly into the heating network of the property that needs heat. The customer can buy affordable and ecological heat that is produced efficiently, for example in the basement of the same building.

Specially manufactured servers are located on the customer's premises. Vatajankoski sells the recovered renewable waste heat to their customers and Kuulea, in turn, sells green computing capacity to customers who need it. Vatajankoski's customers can be, for example, swimming pools, spas and hotels; Kuulea's customers include design offices, banks and animation studios.

At its best in steady use

The servers used by Vatajankoski and Kuulea do not store information, but their capacity is leased to customers who need high-performance computing. Therefore, servers do not require heavy guarding or heavy shutdown systems and can be placed in very ordinary buildings. The specially built servers are owned by Vatajankoski, which sells heat as a service. Alternatively, the customer can invest in server heaters through Kuulea.

- Heating with waste heat generated by servers is at its best in places where heat is needed evenly throughout the year. Excellent places include hotels, spas and municipal swimming pools located in different parts of Finland or in other Nordic countries. In addition to affordable heat, they benefit from a green image and emission reductions, explains Vatajankoski's CEO Pekka Passi.

- The pilot we did at Kankaanpää showed that the idea works. The ERE value, which measures the efficiency of energy reuse, is 96%, while in a traditional data center the figure is typically tens of percentage points lower, says Kari Koivisto, CEO of Kuulea.

If all goes as planned, the world's first project will take place in Kankaanpää this summer, where the water in the swimming pool will be heated with waste heat from the servers located in the hall. After that, Vatajankoski plans to turn their attention to nearby cities, such as Pori and Tampere.

Making the world a better place

According to researchers at Aalto University, carbon dioxide emissions in the information technology sector have already grown to be higher than in aviation. For example, there is a huge need for high-performance computing globally, and the need seems to double every five years. Typical buyers of computing services are various research and educational institutions, meteorological institutes, engineering firms, the financial sector, and advertising and animation studios.

- For the first time, we can offer a truly green option to customers who need computing capacity. In the future, the calculation work does not have to burden the environment. In addition, the operating model enables the production of computing capacity at very competitive prices. We compensate for the emissions that occur during the manufacture of equipment by seedling in Finland. Through Finnish 4H, we also employ local young people around the country, says Koivisto.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications has set up a commitee to prepare an environmental and climate strategy for the ICT sector. The commitees recent final report states: "Utilizing the heat generated as a by-product of data center operations could significantly reduce the need for heating energy production and the resulting CO2 and other emissions."

- Common values led Vatajankoski and Kuulea to start cooperating: we both want to take part in the fight against climate change. There is a market demand for both green computing power and green decentralized produced heat. At first, we aim for a turnover of a few million in a couple of years, Passi says.

An example: A children’s animation film would heat a terraced house for a year

The rendering associated with the production of an average 90-minute animated film produces 102 MWh of thermal energy. This amount of energy can:

- Heat the entire city of Kankaanpää (inhabitants ~11 000) for 6 hours on a winter day.

- Covers the heat demand of a medium-sized apartment building for six months.

- Covers the heat demand of a 10-apartment terraced house for the whole year.

- Heats the domestic water of a family of 4 for about 28 years.

Additional information

President and CEO Pekka Passi, Vatajankoski

tel. +358 40 508 6367 /

Managing Director Kari Koivisto, Kuulea

tel. 040 7744 728 /

Vatajankoski is a new energy company that helps industry as well as property owners and users to reduce energy waste and move to sustainable energy solutions. We are constantly creating new ways to exploit, produce and distribute sustainable energy, applying the latest technologies. Since 1925, our mission has been to create lasting value for the common good. Our turnover in 2020 was € 25 million. Vatajankoski is a co-owner of Kuulea.

Kuulea is a start-up company founded in November 2020 on the desire to utilise the waste heat of data centres innovatively based on the principles of circular economy. The idea produced two separate but mutually beneficial services: Kuulea COMPUTING and Kuulea HEATING. The genuinely green high-performance computing and heating services help customer companies reach their responsibility goals.

Kuulea has ambitious goals as regards environmental responsibility. The company has calculated its emissions by using the global Greenhouse Gas Protocol standard (the GHG protocol) and will become carbon negative during 2022 through compensation measures. Kuulea aims to become the most ecological company in the Nordic countries that focuses on data centre and heating services.

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