Smartdc Sustainability Heat Pump Project

The Smartdc Heat Pump Project

Smartdc's Rotterdam data center will be using residual heat generated by our servers to heat up the Van Nelle Factory and the offices within during the cold months, sharply reducing the usage of gas and electricity for heating, reducing CO2 as a result.

Smartdc Rotterdam, a unique data center 

The Smartdc Rotterdam data center is unique in many ways. The first reason is the location: It operates out of a UNESCO world heritage site in the port city of Rotterdam. The property is an old coffee, tea and tobacco factory named the Van Nelle Factory, a constructivist architectural marvel completed in 1931. The factory was closed down at the end of the 1990s and converted to office space and event sites. Alongside Smartdc Rotterdam, the building now houses over a hundred companies.  

The largest connectivity hub in the region

The second reason Smartdc Rotterdam stands out is its connectivity. The data center is the largest connectivity hub in the region, with over 37,000 square foot floor space and housing over 20 carriers in the meet-me rooms, serving a wide variety of customers.

Smartdc’s sustainable design

The third and most important reason that makes our data center unique is the perspective on power and how the data center has been designed with climate concerns in mind. A facility of this size presents its unique set of challenges — in terms of resources used, energy consumption for running the data suites and cooling the many racks within the data center is always a major consideration. From the beginning, the team at Smartdc had decided to do things a little differently and therefore all electricity consumed by the data center is 100 percent renewable.

Going beyond 100% renewable

While this is a step in the right direction, more could be done. Data centers across the world are seen as contributors to emissions. Power consumption is a significant climate contributor usually, but this issue has been mitigated by Smartdc and others by using renewable energy.

A harder problem to fix is reducing the residual heat released into the environment as a result of cooling the server racks 24/7. With our own needs increasing we thought we could push the envelope and instead find a way to be positive contributors to the climate problem. We started conceptualizing a project that would help us increase capacity and improve efficiency while simultaneously reducing our carbon footprint and heat waste for the data center. This brought the heat pump project to life.

The Smartdc heat pump project

What is this project, you ask? Smartdc Rotterdam has purchased three heat pumps that we are currently fitting into the facility which will turn our residual heat into a heat source for the Van Nelle Factory and the offices operating within. Once operational, the heat pumps will put the heat created by our data center to clever use by heating the office building during the colder months when heating is necessary. Residual heat is normally seen as a contributor to emissions and by turning it into energy, Smartdc will be cycling this heat inwards and reusing it, ensuring that the office complex does not use gas instead to heat up the facilities during the cold season.

Environmental impact

In real terms, the environmental impact of this cannot be overstated. The project keeps heat generated by Smartdc within the complex, ensuring that the heat is looped internally, and does not have to be released out into the environment. This is a key aspect of Smartdc’s carbon avoidance strategy.

The Van Nelle Factory consumes an estimated 1 million cubic meters of gas per year. Our project will provide savings on gas of 800,000 m3— that’s 80 percent of the annual consumption[i]. The National Climate Agreement of the Netherlands brought forth in 2019, placed a heavy emphasis on gas reduction and this project contributes significantly toward the national target as well. In CO2 terms, Smartdc stands to help our partners at the complex save more than 2000 tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2 eq)[ii] — a metric used to compare the real global warming potential of the emissions of specific greenhouse gases.

But even if we ignore our contribution to reducing the carbon footprint of the office building, our own data center becomes more efficient as well. The shift to the heat pumps will now mean that we consume less energy for cooling, saving up on electricity use. We will be improving our power usage effectiveness (PUE) even further from 1.35 to 1.15[iii]. All of this combines to reduce our own data center’s footprint by over 13 percent, dropping from 436 tons of CO2 eq to 378 tons CO2 eq[iv].

Future capacity for 50% growth

This project was needed to position Smartdc Rotterdam for expansion and growth. We were close to max capacity on cooling on our power-redundant N+1 chiller plant. The shift to heat pumps will also allow us to grow from 1400 kW of cooling to 2200 kW, increasing the capacity of our data center by 50 percent.

Almost at the finish line

The project started in January 2022, and we are well on course to complete it in only 11 months since it began. We are currently reworking the room meant for the heat pumps.

As we move closer to the last stages of the project, we thought that putting residual heat to clever use in a UNESCO heritage site governed by strict rules, alongside capacity growth and the positive environmental impact it has is worth sharing. The fact that the largest connectivity hub in the region is doing this is a bonus. We strongly believe that data centers and other high-consumption enterprises have a responsibility to avoid carbon contribution and are excited to get the heat pumps operational to stand by these principles as well.

People often have the wrong perception of what data centers can do regarding sustainability. Data centers should be seen as the cornerstone of the energy transition. This approach of taking these big challenges head on is what we strive for at Smartdc every day.


[i] Calculated using the yearly consumption of gas at the Van Nelle office complex.

[ii] Calculated using the location- and market-based approaches to quantify carbon footprint.

[iii] Power Usage Effectiveness: The ratio which measures the efficiency with which a data center uses energy (lower PUE is preferable).

[iv] Calculated using the location- and market-based approaches to quantify carbon footprint.

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