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Virtual power plants
Photo: Mattias Vesterlund

Virtual power plants

Data centers can replace existing heating plants in a district heating system, with the right cooling technology and IT hardware. A test bed has been set up to advance the technological development of liquid-cooled data centers. The goal is to be able to create excess heat that does not need heat pumps to be use in a district heating network.

The project aims to demonstrate the opportunities and challenges that exist to convert from air cooler to liquid cooled data centers and where data centers then are allowed to operate as a virtual heating plant in a district heating system. The specific cost of liquid cooling is normally higher compared to traditional air cooling but by selling the excess heat as district heating there are opportunities to have a payback of the additional cost within a few years.

A data collection from of a few existing data center and heat plants shows that the specific power intensity of a data center can in some cases correspond to a heating plant in a district heating system. With today's development towards more powerful servers, HPC and use of GPU’s, the power intensity will increase and make data centers more competitive and attractive as a heat source. An evaluation of different possibilities for connections of the data center to the district heating network shows that the data center can be connected as a traditional heat production facility. Where water from the return pipe is extracted and heated to be returned to the supply pipe, to achieve the desired temperature, the flow through the plant is adjusted.

At the ICE data center (RISE) research facility, a test bed has been established that enables evaluation and development of liquid cooling techniques and products. The test bed is connected to the property's domestic hot water and hot water circulation system in the same way as a possible heat production plant. The highest temperature reached on the excess heat was 72°C in a lab test which is suitable for a 4th generation- or a low temperature district heating system. To upgrade to high-temperature district heating, only a small heat pump stage is needed compared to lifting from 35°C which is normal for an air-cooled data center.

To increase the implementation of liquid cooling by data center owners for heat recovery are the biggest obstacles, additional cost for more expensive technology, knowledge of the properties of the technology, lack of models for cooperation and ownership responsibility between the data center owner and the recipient of the surplus heat.

Final report

VIRPP final report.pdf (pdf, 2.84 MB)


Project name





Region Norrbotten

RISE role in project


Project start


40 månader

Total budget





Project members

Supports the UN sustainability goals

7. Affordable and clean energy
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
11. Sustainable cities and communities
Mattias Vesterlund

Contact person

Mattias Vesterlund


+46 10 228 44 41

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