Exploding energy costs have been blamed for the closure of more than 60 public swimming pools across Britain over the past four years.
And with the bills for some expected to rise by £100,000 this year, it has left leisure centres scrabbling around for ways to keep the facilities running.
Step up one unusual solution — the washing-machine-sized data centre.
It may sound far-fetched, but one leisure centre in Devon is using computer power to heat its swimming pool.
The idea works by placing 12 computers inside a white box which is then surrounded by oil to capture the waste heat they produce — in a similar way to another concept that uses computer servers to heat water in people’s homes.
Innovative: It may sound far-fetched, but Exmouth Leisure Centre in Devon is using computer power to heat its swimming pool. A tiny computer server has been provided by the start-up Deep Green. Pictured is the company’s CEO Mark Bjonsgaard
How it works: Several computers are placed inside a white box which is then surrounded by oil to capture the waste heat they produce. The hot oil is in turn pumped into a heat exchanger to warm the water in the pool to about 86°F (30°C) 60 per cent of the time (pictured)
The hot biodegradable mineral oil is in turn pumped into a heat exchanger to warm the water in the pool to about 86°F (30°C) 60 per cent of the time.
HOW DOES A COMPUTER SERVER HEAT A SWIMMING POOL?
1. A washing-machine-sized data centre is installed at a leisure centre free of charge
2. It is powered by electricity which is paid for by the company that installs it, start-up Deep Green
3. The computers are immersed in a biodegradable mineral oil which captures the heat they produce
4. This heat is then transferred from the oil into the cold water of the pool via a heat exchanger
5. It means the pool is heated to about 86°F (30°C) 60 per cent of the time
6. A gas boiler then tops up the water temperature where needed
7. Deep Green makes money by charging clients to use the computer power for AI and machine learning
It is estimated that this will save Exmouth Leisure Centre up to £20,000 a year.
The tiny data centre has been provided to the council-run facility free of charge by start-up firm Deep Green, which also covers the costs of the electricity it requires.
Deep Green makes its money by charging customers to use the computing power provided by the server for artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The company’s founder Mark Bjornsgaard said seven more swimming pools in England had signed up to the scheme, but added that some 1,500 could also benefit.
‘Data centres have got a huge problem with heat,’ he told the BBC.
‘A lot of the money that it costs to run a data centre is taken up in getting rid of the heat.
‘And so what we’ve done is taken a very small bit of a data centre to where the heat is useful and required.’
Sean Day, who runs Exmouth Leisure Centre, said its tie-up with Deep Green had helped to slash costs during what has been an ‘astronomical’ rise in gas prices over the past 12 months.
He revealed that he had been expecting the facility’s energy bills to rise by £100,000 this year.
Instead, Deep Green estimates that its ‘digital boiler’ can help save the leisure centre more than £20,000 a year and reduce its carbon emissions by 25.8 tonnes.
Energy costs for leisure centres have increased by 150 per cent since 2019 and an estimated 79 per cent of facilities say they face closure.
What it looks like: The idea works by placing 12 computers inside a white box which is then surrounded by oil to capture the waste heat they produce (pictured)
A BBC investigation last year found that swimmers across the UK had lost access to more than 60 public pools since 2019.
A lack of staff, rising energy costs and chemical shortages have been blamed for creating a ‘perfect storm’ for centres.
Deep Green’s claims that 30 per cent of industrial and commercial heat needs could be provided by its technology.
The company’s cloud data centres can also be installed in bakeries, distilleries, laundrettes and blocks of flats.
Similar technology is being rolled out in homes up and down the country by a start-up that fits computer servers to people’s hot water tanks.
Clever: Another British start-up called Heata has come up with an idea that it says could soon save Britons £150 a year on their energy bills – by using computer servers to heat their water
Heata claims its shoebox-sized device could help Britons save around £150 a year on their energy bills, while small companies can also make use of the computer power available on the servers rather than them being in a large data centre.
As the computer gets hot, the tank takes waste heat away from it and uses this to warm water for showers, baths and washing up.
Each unit can deliver up to 4.8kWh of hot water per day, the company says — approximately 80 per cent of the hot water required in an average UK household.
The electricity used by the unit is metered and homeowners are credited with the amount used at 10 per cent above the market rate, the company said.
Heata says an electrician can install its device in under two hours using a ‘British Gas approved no plumbing process’.
HOW BRITONS CAN SLASH THEIR ENERGY BILLS BY ATTACHING A SERVER TO THEIR WATER TANK
Computer servers in large data centres across Britain require huge cooling systems to stop them overheating.
The problem with this is that some 45 per cent of energy consumed in these centres goes towards the cooling.
British start-up Heata has therefore come up with a new solution to avoid having to have these cooling systems, and instead make use of the waste heat computers produce.
Heata claims its shoebox-sized device could help Britons save around £150 a year on their energy bills, while small companies can also make use of the computer power available on the servers rather than them being in a large data centre
It offers to install processes in people’s homes by attaching them to their water tanks. The tanks then take this waste heat and use it to heat water for showers and washing up.
It doesn’t cost a homeowner anything because Heata covers the cost of the electricity the servers require.
The company makes its money by essentially letting out these computer servers to companies across the UK, such as architecture firms that need to do computer-intensive rendering.
Heata insists that the data is protected. Currently, however, a homeowner’s broadband has to be used to run the servers, but the firm is in talks with internet service providers to find a work around for this so it doesn’t use up a person’s monthly data allowance.