Data centre heat-recycling technology offers free energy for UK leisure centres

What’s happening? Octopus Energy’s £200m ($252.9m) investment in Deep Green, a green tech firm, may revolutionise energy use in the UK. Deep Green has successfully piloted a scheme using excess heat from computer data processing centres to warm swimming pools, potentially offering an innovative solution to reduce energy bills for up to 150 public pools. The investment aims to expand this sustainable energy solution to leisure centres nationwide over the next two years. Deep Green’s technology repurposes wasted heat from data processing to help decarbonise energy-intensive facilities, addressing challenges faced by leisure centres amidst rising energy costs. (The Guardian) 

Why does this matter? Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, gas and energy prices have soared, contributing towards a cost-of-living crisis. Although the market has stabilised and energy prices have dropped since a turbulent 2022, average energy and gas expenditure in UK households remains 51% higher today than the 2021 average, according to data provided by the government. In response, the UK government has introduced several policy measures, including an energy cap. However, businesses are offered no energy cap and have suffered.  

Widespread closures – Despite an energy discount scheme for leisure centres, The Guardian reported that since 2010, 400 swimming pools have closed in the UK, with the cost-of-living crisis a contributing factor. This translates to a £1bn loss in “associated social value” through health and community benefits offered by pools. 

A scalable solution – Deep Green is attempting to provide a cost-effective and sustainable solution to this problem by installing small data centres at UK swimming pools. As water is pumped through the centre, the pool benefits from free heating, lowering energy bills by up to 60%. Meanwhile, the data centre gains an advantage over competitors by removing heat for free, aiding the function and efficiency of the centre. Deep Green is tapping into a vast source of energy, according to the firm’s CEO Mark Bjornsgaard, as 1% of the heat produced by the UK’s data centres could power all the pools in the country. Therefore, there is huge potential for this technology to be scaled for a variety of uses in multiple sectors.

Government initiatives – In November 2023, the UK government allocated £20m in central funding to support nearly 200 leisure centres and swimming pools across England facing financial challenges due to increased operating costs, particularly energy-related expenses. The Swimming Pool Support Fund aims to prevent closures or service reductions in these facilities. The funding, part of a larger initiative to enhance sustainability, aligns with the government’s goal to promote physical activity, reduce obesity rates, and achieve 3.5 million more people being active by 2030. Additional support, totalling £40m, will focus on energy efficiency improvements for long-term resilience. 

A global issue – Data centres have faced intense scrutiny for their unsustainable energy consumption. With internet users doubling since 2010, data centres now consume between 1-1.5% of the global energy supply. In Ireland last summer, Labour called for a ban on new data centre builds and a windfall tax on the sector’s profits. This came after a 400% surge in demand resulted in data centres using 18% of Ireland’s energy in 2022. 

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