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Data centers waste energy at an alarming rate

Servers turn most of the energy they use into heat. Normal data centers, even the most efficient ones, waste all the heat that they generate.

Currently, Dutch data centers use more electricity than all of Amsterdam, or more than 4% of all electricity in the Netherlands . That amount is growing fast, leading to more fossil fuel consumption, more hoarding of green energy, and more landscape pollution.

Data centers use roughly 3% of all electricity globally and are responsible for approximately 1% of global Greenhouse Gas Emissions. To put that in perspective, those numbers are comparable to double the electricity consumption of all global transport and the emissions of a decent sized nation. Data center energy consumption is set to at least double by 2030.  

A handful of giant corporations build 'hyperscale' data centers. These come with a massive carbon cost as they require lots of concrete, transport, and often require additional infrastructure to be built. Not just more power from an overtaxed grid, but roads, piping, and other basic infrastructure.

These hyperscale facilities in the middle of nowhere use lots of energy to power servers. Servers get hot and need cooling. So, data centers use lots more energy and gallons - in some cases up to 3 to 5 million a day - of fresh water to run massive air conditioners, and are backed up by diesel generators. Many more companies operate medium to small sized (and even less efficient) data centers. These follow the same basic rules as above: high carbon cost in construction and during operation, additional fresh water used to make the cooling process slightly more efficient. And lots of companies run tiny, inefficient data centers 'on-prem'. The classic server-room, or basement.

This has to change.


No new data centres

Leafcloud takes a radically different approach. We accelerate the energy transition, make our cities more sustainable, and reduce the emissions caused by AI and the cloud. We do this by not building new data centers.

Instead, we use the technical area (a large room housing the building's central water system) of several existing structures in a city to house our servers. These are buildings such as swimming pools, nursing homes, and large apartment complexes. By connecting them to a web of dark fiber, we create a distributed data center between them. After all, while transporting heat is tricky, transporting data across fiber is extremely effective. Not transporting heat means nearly all of it can be captured and used to heat up water right in the building.  

This model comes with a host of advantages:

  • check No new construction of data centers
  • check Reduced fossil fuel use for heating in cities
  • check Eliminate water usage in the server cooling process
  • check Reduce taxation on the energy grid by spreading the load
  • check Eliminate the need for back up diesel generators

Green energy is still scarce. So, why not use it twice: First, to power the servers. Second, by using the resulting heat (99+% of energy gets turned into heat) to help provide hot water for showers and such. Especially in places still dependent on fossil fuels like natural gas for heating, this reduces overall GGE by 1776 kg CO2 per Kw year. That's the equivalent of 1.4 cars driving for a year per Kw year of installed IT hardware. More on that below.

Think about it like this: Incrementally improving data center cooling efficiency is like making a more efficient diesel car, no longer good enough. By rethinking the fundamental idea of a data center and using servers as highly effective heaters, Leafcloud is causing a revolution in cloud sustainability.

A better way

Our unique distributed architecture allows Leafcloud servers to be installed at locations that use hot water year-round. At these Leaf sites, our servers deliver heat directly into the local water and heating system. This replaces heating from sources such as natural gas, thereby drastically reducing CO2 emissions. Because we use existing structures, we also realise significant carbon reduction by not building large structures - and the required infrastructure - in the middle of nowhere.

How much Leafcloud actually saves

Our measurements show that at a Leaf site we capture and deliver around 85% of the heat our servers generate to the buildings' heating system. The remaining 15% is attributed to our cooling system and a small amount of lost heat.

In the following graph we compare our energy spent with high efficiency datacenters, the average datacenter, and with an on-premise data room.

In this graph we use the unit of ERE (Energy Re-use effectiveness) . This measure is similar to PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) but takes energy re-use into account. The formula for calculating ERE is as follows:

Leafcloud’s result comes out to 0.15, when compared to 1.67 for the average datacenter , leafcloud is about 10 times more efficient!

Leafsite negative co2 emissions compared with other data center types
Leafsite negative co2 emissions compared with other data center types

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