As early as 2008, Steven Chu, Nobel Prize winner and former Secretary of Energy under the Obama administration told ScienceGuide: “Energy efficiency is the biggest gain. We can think of as many fantastic technological alternatives and solutions as we want, but pure savings, or more concretely higher efficiencies in terms of energy use hold the largest promise”
“Thirty years ago, fridges were the biggest energy consumers of any household. And particularly in the US these devices are large and true energy guzzlers. When legislation was passed to address this situation the industry had to act fast, and so they did. As a result fridges have become four times as efficient in the last decades. Consumers of course applauded the achievement as electricity prices continue to rise.”
“The energy savings this resulted in for the US were enormous. It was the equivalent of what all hydropower dams in the United States produced combined, a few percentage points of total electricity consumption. Today’s energy guzzler is one of a different kind: the computer, both in homes and datacenters for companies and institutions. Datacenters alone are good for between 1 and 3 percent of worldwide electricity consumption! It took a while but that realization has hit home. Much so, for a few young entrepreneurs from Delft, who came up with a novel concept to use energy more efficiently.
Killing two birds with one stone
The Nerdalize engineers had their epiphany in a way much like Newton stumbled upon the concept of gravity when he saw an apple fall from the tree. Nerdalize Co-Founder, Boaz Leupe remembers quite vividly: “It was one of those freezing winter evenings when through a mistake of our own the heating bailed on us. We tried everything but couldn’t get warm.”
“All of a sudden my housemate Mathijs de Meijer jumped into the room hugging his laptop which was comfortably warm. Being true to his engineering background he joked that he was going to fill his room with a hundred laptops and coast through our thermostat crisis on Nerdheat.” What was seemingly meant as a joke, we soon realized to be a great idea,”
Leupe roaringly agrees with Steven Chu. “The most important step we must make in years to come is improving energy efficiency. Enormous amounts of energy are wasted which doesn’t only cost a fortune but also has dramatic impact on our climate. Before you start a drastic overhaul of the entire energy production system you should first look at how efficiently we are using the energy we produce today.”
By using ‘energy guzzling computers’ to heat your home you drastically increase energy efficiency as you effectively use the energy twice. The first time around for calculation and once more to heat your home. As Nerdalize plans to fully compensate homeowners for the electricity used by their heaters the idea also makes a lot of economic sense when considering that 60% of the average Dutch energy bill goes to heating expenses.
Green Norwegian Data
Nerdalize’s lead engineer, Mathijs de Meijer explains that the cost structure of a datacenter comprises around 50% building costs, 30% is spent on the actual servers which consume electricity that represents another 10% of total costs. Additionally another 10% of the budget goes to cooling the servers. “Datacenters must be well climatized to prevent overheating of the servers. That cooling problem brought us to the following idea.” When you put the computers in homes where you actually need the heat you don’t need a large datacenter or waste money on cooling equipment and the energy that uses.”
And where better to test such a concept than in freezing Norway where inhabitants put heaters on full blast for at least 10 months of the year. De Meijer explains: “Norway is an ideal market. Norwegians have high speed internet, but almost no central heating systems. In fact, according to Euromonitor around 98% of Norwegians heat their homes electrically. As for ease of installation, an electric panel heater is easily replaced by a heat producing server and can be connected to the internet in no time.” Because Norway generates around 96 percent of its energy consumption through hydropower both the heating as well as the computing power can be considered ‘green’.
In 2006 Clive Humby notoriously exclaimed “Data is the new oil!”. The engineers at Nerdalize make this metaphor even more complete now they have found a way to heat homes with data. Not only is the energy used twice, also money can be made twice. Nerdalize profits by selling computing power and homeowners get to heat their home for free as Nerdalize compensates them in full for the energy consumption of the server.
“We aim to sell the computing power generated by the servers we place in homes to companies and scientific institutions. When there is excess capacity at any point in time we donate this to valuable scientific research.” Besides turning data into heat, this new form of philanthropy then also turns data into a form of currency.
If you want to know more or help realize this project through crowdfunding, click here!
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