Norwegian government to demand data centers try plugging into district heating systems

Date: 24/02/2021

The Norwegian government will demand data centres and other large electricity users must explore offering their waste heat to district heating systems, according to a proposal circulated this week.

Minister of Energy Tina Bru wants all companies that build or upgrade large energy-consuming plants to find out whether their waste heat can be used. Interested parties have till 14 April to respond to the consultation.

Heated discussion
Bru's proposal comes as Norway is implementing a Directive from the EU which will require large energy users to reuse their waste heat where possible. However, including data centres would take Norway's implementation beyond the requirements of the EU.

The EU requires industrial plants greater than 20MW fired by gas, oil, waste, or bioenergy to explore connections with district heating suppliers. Bru would extend this in Norway, to include data centres with a capacity of more than 2MW, according to a report by Datacenter Forum of Sweden.

"The EU first and foremost sets requirements for plants with thermal energy. But we believe it is appropriate to set requirements for data centres as well," Bru said in a statement. Data centres outside cities could offer heat to industry, fish farms, or swimming pools.

Data centres produce waste heat by cooling their servers. Although data centres would have to get in touch with potential customers for their waste heat, according to the proposal, they will not be absolutely required to connect into those systems, as Bru wants data centres to see the benefits and sign up voluntarily. "Plants that are covered by the EU directive and have thermal energy, they are required to utilize the waste heat," said Bru. "For those who are not covered by the EU requirement, we will not make such a requirement."

The move is part of a bid to make Norway's grid greener. Electrification of society is increasing, so more grid connections and more electricity will be required, which may put prices up, said Bru: "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. Data centres 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.

Norway has a strategic plan to make the country a "Data Center Nation," and offers a tax break that all-but-eliminates their energy cost, in order to remain competitive with the rest of Scandinavia. Data centres pay 0.55 øre (about $0.005) per kilowatt-hour in electricity tax, while consumers pay 16.69 øre (about $.02) per kilowatt-hour. This low price means they have little incentive to use energy efficiently, Bru said - hence the proposed measure.

Despite Bru's comments, some Norwegian data centre operators are already enthusiastic partners of district heating systems. Digiplex's data centre in Oslo is already contributing to keeping the capital city's residents warm, with help from Fortum Varme.