Telehouse data centre to heat Docklands neighbourhood

Telehouse Europe is building a large data centre in energy-constrained Docklands, receiving the planning permission on the condition that it help heat the neighbourhood.

Power issues are widely cited as a major cause of the data centre exodus from London. Yet Telehouse Europe has found a way to build Telehouse West, a nine-storey, 19,000-square-metre data centre in the middle of London's Docklands.

Telehouse got the green light after proposing that the £80 million data centre will export waste heat for use in nearby homes and businesses. The disposal of waste heat from data centre cooling systems is a significant sustainability issue. Telehouse West is expected to be up and running by April 2010.

I think some people are surprised that Telehouse can build a new data centre in the middle of the Docklands.

Bob Harris,
technical services directorTelehouse Europe

"This is not new technology. What is new is the application of existing technologies to use the heat in this way," said Bob Harris, the technical services director of Telehouse Europe.

Analysts believe this will be the first time a heat-export strategy has been introduced in the U.K. for this type of data centre facility.

"I haven't come across anybody else -- either a hosting company or end-user company -- that is doing anything like this," said Rakesh Kumar, an analyst at Gartner Inc.

Chris Ingle, an analyst at IDC, said the technology is popular in the Nordic countries, which re-use heat and power from factories to heat local homes and businesses. He said that until recently, the U.K. government was not as focused on such efforts.

"Some of the pilots I have seen weren't economically viable. Presumably if these guys are going ahead, they have got an economically viable model. But some of the pilots I think were discontinued because they didn't break even and didn't make sufficient savings returns," Ingle said.

Within three to five years, Telehouse West's heat exchanger will be up and running and will save up to 1,110 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year and provide up to nine megawatts of power for the local neighbourhood, the company claims. Looking further to the future, the photovoltaic cells on part of the building are designed to provide a power source to drive electric cars with an electric car-charging station on-site.

"I think some people are surprised that Telehouse can build a new data centre in the middle of the Docklands," said Telehouse's Harris. "A lot of data centre people are suggesting that there is a dearth of power to drive new data centres in the Docklands or in London."

In fact, Telehouse West also won permission to build a primary substation on-site to generate power for the business and then to release it out again into the wider community:

"It doesn't address the fundamental problem of there being higher energy demands for data centres in London than the generating capacity," IDC's Ingle said. "You have got a lot of project planning to consume a lot of power. The Olympics is one example of that, and that is putting constraints on the amount of power that can go to London sites. So there are various ways that people are looking to get around that problem, ranging from changing the technologies they use to moving data centres outside London."

Gartner's Kumar believes the power issue is a bigger problem than power company EDF Energy is admitting to. "I have had conversations with users who had tried to secure power supplies and get guarantees, and those guarantees have not been forthcoming. They have had to review their plans and design some sort of on-site power generation, which is much more expensive," he said.

Pushing the limits for more power
Since 2000, Telehouse Europe has had planning permission for a data centre on the site. In June 2008, when the company went back to the planning authorities to go ahead with its latest bid, the planning application had to be adjusted substantially from previous incarnations.

This time it had to take into account the mounting customer demand for more power, set against increasing regulatory calls for environmentally friendly installations.

The final arbiters of the planning application were London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the Thames Gateway Authority. They approved the application in April 2009.

"We had a lot of help from the GLA; they have people who are specialists in this field, and we employed our own specialists to discuss the pros and cons of various applications with those people to come up with a scheme that we ultimately then put in for final approval," said Harris.

Telehouse West has committed only to getting hot water to its perimeter; further investment will be needed if local homes and businesses are to benefit from the energy.

"There would be some investment required by the end users," according to Harris. Telehouse has to make the heat energy free only at the point of source. "We don't charge anything for the heat exchange, so that benefits the wider community without Telehouse having to put more capital into that," he said.

Telehouse West will owe the existence of this data centre to its contribution to the community, and subsequently its claimed benefits are likely to be closely scrutinised by the green lobby. Harris said that he is ready for that: "We are keen to demonstrate through external auditing for our BS 14001 accreditation that all the claims we make are actually substantiated and are regularly reviewed and audited."

Tracey Caldwell is a contributor to

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