A French start-up has developed the world's first computer-radiator, capable of recycling the heat released by computer calculations to heat living spaces. A win-win for cities, businesses, and for the environment
Driven by increasingly powerful algorithms, the IT industry is not about to stop its exponential growth, precious for global communications, finances and security. Yet, far from being virtual, the environmental impact of this energy intensive technology is undeniable. As a whole, the digital industry consumes around 10 percent of the world's energy, according to the French Environment Agency (Ademe). A quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions this sector generates comes from data centers.
But, when they operate, the servers in these data centers also produce heat. With this in mind, the young Parisian company Qarnot computing has developed a unique concept — and a world’s-first: a computer-radiator, capable of recycling the residual heat and thus considerably reducing the energy consumption of computer calculations all while heating social housing buildings.
Baptized “QH1” by the company's co-founders, Paul Benoit and Miroslav Sviezeny, these "tiny data centers" are integrated inside the radiators and connected to an optical fiber, which allows them to remotely execute the IT operations of companies such as banks, research centers or industrial groups. For companies with humongous computation needs, the technology represents both an economical and environmentally friendly solution, as it eliminates the need for infrastructure, energy costs of powering servers and economic burdens of cooling them — and it helps them reduce up to 78 percent the carbon footprint related to IT calculation processes, according to Qarnot.
Each unit has three microprocessors inside that conduct the calculations, and can be modulated to regulate frequency, which in turn release the heat. The radiator, that can generate up to 650 watts, then diffuses the heat, warming a room of up to 30 square meters — even several thousand kilometres away from the calculation’s origin. To regulate the temperature, users can simply modulate these digital operations to increase or decrease the frequency using a simple thermostat; like a regular radiator.
And the heating ends up being virtually free of charge for the household. Once the radiator is installed, Qarnot reimburses the unit's energy consumption costs, allowing users to recover their entire initial investment. The company, which employs around thirty people, turns a profit from selling its computing capacity to companies such as BNP Paribas.
The QH1 is nowadays in its third version, which includes sensors for temperature, noise, light, air quality, pressure and motion, as well as a low-speed wi-fi module that allows the user to surf the Internet. Qarnot has installed so far more than 1000 radiators in social housing buildings —mostly in Paris and Bordeaux—, but has no intention of stopping there and now sets out to conquer Finland.
This article has been written as part as a series of stories produced for open_resource by Sparknews, a French social enterprise that aims to foster new narratives that can help accelerate a social and environmental transition to tackle our world’s most pressing issues.