With snow falling in the South, lots of folks are jacking up the thermostat. But an idea from the University of Virginia and Microsoft Research puts a twist on home heating: use data centers rather than a furnace.
The authors of the report say that servers still operated by their companies—a concept they call the “data furnace”—could lower homeowners’ as well as businesses’ energy costs. As The New York Times explains it:
If a home has a broadband Internet connection, it can serve as a micro data center. One, two or three cabinets filled with servers could be installed where the furnace sits and connected with the existing circulation fan and ductwork. Each cabinet could have slots for, say, 40 motherboards — each one counting as a server. In the coldest climate, about 110 motherboards could keep a home as toasty as a conventional furnace does.
During the warmer months, the heat could be vented to the outdoors much like that of a clothes dryer, though that vent would have to be added to homes. The research puts the cost for a company to operate each server at $400 a year or about $16,000 for a cabinet of 40, which includes the data center building cost. The cost of operating that 40-board cabinet in a home is estimated at less than $3,600 a year with a smaller carbon footprint, so a company could cover that cost and still come out ahead.
Though probably more feasible for heating businesses and apartment buildings, the idea sounds worthy of more consideration for individual homes. Especially with so many people struggling to pay their heating costs, it would seem to make more sense than building a data center in the Arctic.