updated: 19-02-2021 | 17:09
Minister of Energy Tina Bru will demand that data centers and other large electricity-powered plants find out whether they can utilize their surplus heat, according to a proposal that was sent for consultation on Wednesday, with a consultation deadline of 14 April. The proposal sets stricter requirements than the EU.
The Ministry of Energy requires that companies who build or upgrade larger energy and industrial plants must analyze whether they can utilize their waste heat. This is a follow-up to the EU's energy efficiency directive, but Minister of Energy Tina Bru says that she will be even stricter than the EU. EU requirements only apply to plants powered by gas, oil, waste and bioenergy, but in Norway the directive will include data centers.
"The EU first and foremost sets requirements for plants with thermal energy. But we believe it is appropriate to set requirements for data centers as well", says Bru to E24. Brun hopes the requirement can contribute to even better utilization of energy in data centers. Most of the power consumption in a data center goes to cooling, and it provides excess heat. This heat can, for example, be used in the district heating network in the cities, or provide heat to industry, fish farms or swimming pools.
EU requirements apply to plants of more than 20 megawatts. Bru will make similar demands, but proposes that data centers with an output of more than two megawatts should also make analyzes of whether the waste heat can be useful.
Not manditory to act after analysis
But even if data centers carry out cost-benefit analyzes that indicate using waste heat is profitable, Bru will not make any absolute requirement that such solutions must be used. "Plants that are covered by the EU directive and have thermal energy, they are required to utilize the waste heat. For those who are not covered by the EU requirement, we will not make such a requirement", says Bru. The reason it's non-commital is that "We fear, among other things, that it will result in bad analysis. We want first and foremost that the players themselves see the opportunities", she adds.
Higher energy prices
In a consultation note, the government points out that the extensive electrification of society in connection with the green shift will require more networks and increased power production, and that electricity prices may increase. Thus, it also becomes important to use the energy as efficiently as possible, so nothing is wasted. "This is a very current debate right now. The need for electricity is getting bigger and bigger, because we have to electrify more, to achieve the climate goals. So we must also make sure that we use the energy we already have as efficiently as possible", says Bru. "Data centers are planned all over the country, and there is a great potential for utilizing the waste heat, for example for industry, buildings or fish farms", she adds.
Energy tax cuts for data centers
Data centers are considered a power-intensive industry, and therefore pay a reduced electricity fee. Thus, they pay 0.55 øre per kilowatt hour in electricity tax, while consumers pay 16.69 øre per kilowatt hour. "Data centers get a reduced electricity tax because power to industry and ships in industry also have this exception. But because they have reduced taxes, they also have less incentives to use energy efficiently. Therefore, we think it is wise to consider other methods that can trigger efficient use of energy in data centers", says Bru.
In recent years, many new data centers have been developed. NVE has estimated that power consumption from data centers will increase to 7 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2040 or perhaps as much as 11 TWh, from 0.8 TWh in 2019. In comparison, Norway's total power consumption last year was about 135 TWh.
It is not just data centers that have surplus heat. Converter stations at the higher levels in the power grid also create a lot of heat, the government points out. In the long run, hydrogen production can also contribute a lot of waste heat. There, the efficiency is 60-70 percent, while much of the energy is wasted. "It is difficult to estimate how much green hydrogen production will come in Norway, but utilization of waste heat from such plants should be considered," the government writes in the consultation note.
Digiplex and Forum heat re-use
There are already some who are working to utilize the heat from data centers in Norway. Bru points out that Fortum has such a project at one of DigiPlex' data centers. "Fortum Varme has a project to utilize waste heat from a data center at Ulven in Oslo that can cover the heating needs of 5,000 homes. This corresponds to the energy from two wind turbines, so it puts this in perspective", says Bru.
According to the consultation note, state-owned Enova has since 2009 supported 100 projects with waste heat utilization in various sectors. Examples include drying timber, heat recovery from textile washing plants, thawing snow in driveways and football pitches, heating sports halls, and heating chicken coops, commercial buildings and swimming pools.
When municipalities and business actors need to find out where there is a need for heat, they can use a national heat map that NVE has developed. NVE's thematic map shows where there is district heating, data centers, industrial companies that can have waste heat delivered to the population.