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Published on June 28th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer

5

Why There’s a 1 MW Power Station Under a Helsinki Cathedral

The energetic founder of Finnish energy monitoring giant BaseN was walking past data centers to measure their heat output as part of trying to make their own data center more efficient, when he had a real Eureka moment.

Instead of seeing all the wasted heat energy from the computer server farms as a problem, BaseN’s Pasi Hurri suddenly realized that he was looking at a potential heat and power station.

“We were contemplating a new data center that would be efficient, and walked past data centers, getting thermal output measurements,” the genial BaseN CEO told me and a group of ecobloggers on a tour of Finnish green-tech.

“Most data centers don’t realize how much they are wasting, but we saw a couple of places spewing out more than I megawatt!”

Image: Pablo Päster of TreehuggerBaseN_Power_station

Their server farm under Helsinki's Uspenski Cathedral is now a 1 megawatt power station

(In Finland they translate heat output, not from BTUs, but from, yes:  “saunas” directly into Megawatt-equivalents) Realizing that the energy business has a hundred and twenty times more potential than the energy monitoring business, he joined forces with the equally visionary  Matti Roto of Academica Oy to build their data-center-cum-power-station in downtown Helsinki to warm residents in the city (previous story).

They found the perfect spot, housed in a former bomb shelter, deep in bedrock under the Russian-influenced Uspenski Cathedral in downtown Helsinki, and built their first data farm, set to start sending the equivalent of a megawatt in heat energy to Helsinki’s district heating network this month.

Finland only became independent of the USSR in the middle of the last century, and the district heating system was one of the frugal ideas inherited from the soviet system that has actually turned out to be a very useful green technology  in a newly carbon-constrained world.

This data farm/power station uses district heating to heat the Helsinki equivalent of 500 single family houses. City apartments are more efficient, but houses in Finland can use a Wyoming-like 9,000 kWh annually, with temperatures in the below zeros and long dark winter days when the only light you see all winter is electric. The power plant can also serve as an emergency backup, providing its own electric power if the city’s electricity goes down.

And that’s just the beginning. BaseN has one thousand servers around the world. Next, the energetic and enthusiastic pair from Academica Oy and BaseN now plan a new joint project ten times this size.





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