Sustainability for sustainability’s sake – it should be motivation enough. But, if there is one thing that COP26, and every decision made since the early moments of the industrial revolution (two-hundred and fifty odd years ago), we can see that sustainability is not enough by itself. There needs to be something else driving it – whether that be positive, or negative reinforcement.

This is a concept we discussed in depth in our latest episode of the DCD Zero Downtime podcast. This week’s guest was Max Schulze, from the Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance and he had a lot of interesting perspectives on sustainability, and in particular the ‘hot topic’ of heat reuse (his joke, not mine. Though I do quite like it.)

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“It [heat reuse] is currently treated as something that we have to do because the regulator wants us to, or in order to get a permit.

“And then there's the liquid cooling community, that keeps urging – ‘with our technology it can be easier and better.’ But it doesn't change the fact that nobody's really interested in the first place, especially on the operator side.”

The question is, then surely, how do we get operators interested in heat reuse, and prioritizing it? Max Schulze’s argument is that we have to make it economically beneficial. It has to be incentivized.

“Because the temperature of the heat data centers produce is low, investing in a heat pump for a data center makes no sense. If they give it away for free, how do you refinance the capital investment in the heat pump?

“I think we need to move away from this idea of let's give away the heat for free, at low temperatures, and instead say, ‘Okay, what would it cost to improve the quality of the heat? And how do I pass on those costs to somebody who's willing to pay for that? Then we can have a completely different discussion.

“Try to imagine yourself being not a data center engineer, but a district heating engineer, and you're trying to plan your district heating system.

“You're looking around for different heat sources, and one option is the data centers, which from the district heating perspective, says ‘I can give heat at 25 degrees Celsius. Don't ask me for any availability guarantees, it's free. Don't ask me to put any effort into it.’ Of course, I'm not going to consider that heat source.

“If I'm a district heating engineer, obviously this isn’t interesting. But let's say the data center said ‘I can increase the temperature of the heat for you, I can deliver 40 degrees Celsius, and it will cost you this. And if you pay a little bit more, I can even give you a 15-year guarantee that I will deliver this because you're paying enough for me to make investments into additional redundant infrastructure.”

What Schulze is getting at is really what is at the core of every business. Money is the key motivator, and this can be applied to everything, even sustainability.

Listen to the full episode for a more in-depth look at the heat reuse issue, and a bit of debate between editor Peter Judge and our guest.