Date Published: July 28, 2017, 2:05 p.m.
arnot, a French start-up created in 2010 and specialized in energy efficient high-performance computer services, has created the Q.ware and Q.rad SMART solutions. Q.ware is a software platform that uses cloud computing to help companies cool down their high-performance computing datacentres by distributing the heat generated by workload processing into a distributed infrastructure.
Data centres consume 3% of the world’s electricity, and it tends to double every five years. High-performance computing (HPC) data centres generate a lot of heat, and equipment installed to cool down these powerful computers are costly, need heavy equipment and are very energy-hungry. Half of the energy consumed by data centres is used to cool servers. Usually, it is very difficult to recycle or harness the heat generated by data centres, as they tend to be remotely located from potential users of the heat. Besides having a significant environmental impact, it also represents a lot of wasted energy as estimates say that the heat produced by data centres around the world could heat half of Europe’s buildings.
In this context, Qarnot, a French start-up created in 2010 and specialized in energy efficient high-performance computer services, has created the Q.ware and Q.rad SMART solutions. Q.ware is a software platform that uses cloud computing to help companies cool down their high-performance computing datacentres by distributing the heat generated by workload processing into a distributed infrastructure. As such, computing power is no longer deployed in concentrated data centres, but split throughout the city in form of Q.rads, which are small “digital heater” units located in homes, public buildings or offices. Q.rad uses embedded processors as a heat source to provide free and efficient heating where they are installed. Q.rads are completed by sensors placed around the home, and provides functionalities such as Wi-Fi, air quality control, SMART alarm systems. Q.rad can be implemented both in existing constructions and included in the initial design of new buildings. The only technical requirement for its implementation is that the building is equipped with fibre optics. Qarnot works with more than 500 private clients (mainly major banks, 3D animation studios and research labs) to compute remotely with Q.ware and with two local governments (Paris and Bordeaux) to heat social housing buildings, and the Q.rad solution has been implemented in more than 100 households and offices in France.
In 2014, Qarnot worked with the city of Paris and RIVP (Régie Immobilière de la Ville de Paris – a social housing landlord where the city of Paris holds the majority of shares) to implement Q.rad digital heaters in one social housing building. The goal of this pilot project was to provide social and financial benefits to inhabitants through free heating, and more energy efficiency to the city. The first step was the conduction of a thorough energy audit to evaluate the number of Q.rads needed (which depends on volumes, insulation, outside temperatures, etc.) and a technical audit to assess the network and needs in terms of cables and fibre optic. The studies served as a basis to draft the contract with the stakeholders, and identified the need for 300 Q.rads. Implementation took six months after the signature of the contract. It included the infrastructure installation (fibre optics in the building, cables and Q.rads in each apartment) and dialogue with the residents of the building (organization of meetings, distribution of leaflets, etc.). The project was included in the Paris’ Climate Plan and is part of a renovation process of social housing engaged by the RIVP. The total cost of the Q.rad project was 1 million euros (the price for a Q.rad ranges from 2.5 to 3.5k€ per Q.rad), consisting only of upfront investment cost, as no operating costs are foreseen afterwards because Qarnot provides the free maintenance and replacement of the machines every 3 to 5 years.
The solution has benefits for the companies that pay for the cloud computing service as it reduces their expenses for data centre management, for the house and offices that get free heat, for the research centres to whom the excess energy is redistributed, and for the local government that sees its energy consumption reduced. Q.rad has a high social impact: besides solving the problem of waste heat, the system is a mean to enable poorer households to heat their homes free. In fact, in average, in France, 50% of the household electricity bill is dedicated to heating; and one in five households can be considered “fuel-poor”. By providing free heating, Q.rad can reduce the burden on the low income households’ already tight budget. Q.rad SMART solution also has a positive environmental impact as the building is now considered as energy-neutral, it recycles waste energy from computer data centres, and reduces the carbon footprint from computations by 60 to 78%. For the local government, although the system supposes a strong initial financial investment, it generates energy and financial savings on the long term. In addition, it also sends a strong message that the local government takes measures to fight energy poverty and the digital gap, while increasing building energy efficiency.
No major technical difficulties were observed during the project’s implementation, however, the project leaders had to tackle regulatory issues to have the device taken into account by the French thermal regulation schemes. In addition, implementing the system in an occupied building was proven difficult, due to the need to install access to fibre optics and to organize several meetings with tenants. Qarnot identifies the following elements as key to ensure the success of the project:
Communication with general public to include the project in the frame of the local government’s agenda for sustainable development and SMART city.
As more and more cities move to SMART city schemes based on intensive use of technologies, which increases data centres size and activities, Q.rad may appear as a solution for cities wishing to combine re-use of heat generated from workload processing and heating social housing buildings. It may help the city reduce energy consumption from data centres and generate substantive financial savings.
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