Heating Your Home With Data: Cloud Computers As Residential Boilers

data furnace Heating Your Home With Data: Cloud Computers As Residential Boilers

An artists rendering

Betabeat is of the opinion that the internet can be used to solve just about any problem. With winter bearing down on us, it was exciting to see a study from a team of researchers at Microsoft and the University of Virginia arguing that cloud computing could be leveraged to cheaply and efficiently heat people’s homes. This being academia, they kick things off with a joke, “Cloud computing is hot, literally.”

The massive amount of data making its way into the cloud means a lot more energy going into IT. “Electricity consumed by computers and other IT equipment has been skyrocketing in recent years, and has become a substantialpart of the global energy market,” the researchers write.

“Computers can be placed directly into buildings to provide low latency cloud computing for its offices or residents, and the heatthat is generated can be used to heat the building. This approach improves quality of service by moving storage and computation closer to the consumer, and simultaneously improves energy efficiency and reduces costs by reusing the electricity and electrical infrastructure thatwould normally be used for space heating alone.”

For the brainiacs out there, this is a irresitable idea.

Winston Saunders, a physicist who serves as an alternate board member of the Green Grid, told the NY Times, “I’ve got a little house in the middle of the Oregon mountains. I have baseboard electric heaters in it right now that cost me a fortune to run. What if I had a ‘baseboard data center’? It would just sit there and produce the same amount of heat with the same amount of electricity. But it would also do computing, such as decoding DNA, analyzing protein structures or finding a cure for cancer.”

Saving the environment while curing cancer. Everyone wins!

The issue with this research is that we haven’t quite reached the point where most residential home owners are interested in buying and maintaining their own hardware. So Betabeat would suggest that this might go one step further. Corporations and consumers could partner to defray the cost of cooling servers and heating homes by distributing data furnaces around the nation.

Companies like Facebook have begun building their data centers in places like Lulea, Sweden, relying on the arctic climate there as a natural cooling mechanism. What if big tech companies installed their data centers as the heating units for American schools or affordable public housing? The government could cut them some tax breaks as an initial incentive, then reap the long term rewards as Facebook’s data consumption.

The research points out that the explosion of energy consumption in the IT sector could provide a powerful counterbalance to our overall carbon footprint. “The energy budget allocated for heating would provide an ample energy supply for computing. For example, home heating alone constitutes about 6% of theU.S. energy usage. By piggy-backing on only half ofthis energy, the IT industry could double in size without increasing its carbon footprint or its load on the powergrid and generation systems.”