What Is Data Center Heat Export and How Does it Work?

Equinix partners with energy companies to recover and deliver a cleaner, low-cost heat alternative to local communities

Noah Nkonge
What Is Data Center Heat Export and How Does it Work?

Digitalization is accelerating, which means every aspect of our lives produces increasing amounts of data. At the same time, the increased demand for enormous amounts of processing power to train AI models, implement digital transformation initiatives and operate always-on digital businesses is driving the need for higher-density racks of CPUs and GPUs that run constantly and produce residual heat.

Data center operators focused on running sustainable operations have already taken steps to allow for higher temperatures in their buildings that align with the latest standards. In 2022, Equinix became the first colocation data center operator to expand temperature ranges to align with ASHRAE A1 Allowable (A1A) standards. We also continue to make progress toward our long-term goal to achieve 100% renewable energy coverage by 2030. In 2023, we maintained 96% renewable energy coverage across our portfolio. Equinix supports major liquid cooling technologies, including direct-to-chip and rear-door heat exchangers, to address rising data center temperatures caused by higher-density hardware. We’re designing new Equinix IBX®colocation data centers to use these cooling technologies that deliver efficiency and enable high-performance deployments. And we continuously seek and explore new opportunities for managing the heat produced by customer IT equipment. But there’s more to be done.

Data center operators want to address how to make use of a valuable and largely untapped resource—residual heat—in a responsible manner. One solution that is gaining momentum is heat export. Operators can work with third-party heat network operators or energy utilities to recycle heat for distribution to surrounding communities. By reusing residual heat, heat export provides a cleaner heat alternative that helps lower emissions and supports a local circular economy.

Data center operators are developing heat export initiatives to help meet evolving expectations and regulations around resource efficiency and climate change. For instance, Germany has already enacted stringent laws, such as the Energy Efficiency Act[1], mandating waste heat recovery and export from data centers. Similarly, the U.K. government’s recent consultation on establishing a Heat Network Zoning Authority[2] highlights the role of recoverable heat from industries such as data centers in accelerating the development of new heat networks to decarbonize heat in the UK.

The success of heat export initiatives hinges on working in partnership with heat network operators, energy utilities, local and national governments and with other data center operators. We designed a Equinix Heat Export program to connect and collaborate with the right organizations to make heat export happen across the world.

How does heat export work?

Conventionally, data center operators remove residual heat generated from cooling IT equipment and reject this heat to the atmosphere. In a common scenario, fans carry air heated by the IT equipment to the data center’s air conditioning system, where this heat is transferred from the air to water. The warmed water is then transported to the data center cooling system which rejects the residual heat from the building.​

When data center operators incorporate heat export from their data centers, they transfer a portion of this heat to a third-party heat network via a heat exchanger instead of rejecting all the residual heat to the atmosphere. The heat exchanger keeps water in the data center cooling system separate from water in the infrastructure owned and operated by the heat network operator.

In many cases, the heat network operator uses a heat pump to increase the water temperature so it’s suitable for the community heat requirements. Then, they distribute the heated water via underground pipes which are typically installed under roads and sidewalks.

Collaborating on heat export projects

Equinix is committed to finding innovative solutions that reduce emissions and positively impact our customers and the communities where we operate. The heat generated in Equinix data centers is a low-carbon heat source. With rising energy prices and continued global disruption, access to this heat source reduces price volatility and energy insecurity for local authorities, businesses and residents near Equinix data centers.

We currently have three sites contracted to export heat, and we’re designing all future Equinix IBX® colocation data centers with heat recovery and export capabilities. Our heat export initiative demonstrates the power of collective community action to support a move toward a circular economy. Here are a few examples of what we’ve achieved in various cities by partnering with local, regional and global organizations:

  • Helsinki: In 2010, we launched the world’s first heat export project to provide heat for homes in the area, in collaboration with energy supplier Helen. In 2021, we extended the agreement to include an additional Equinix IBX data center in Helsinki.
  • Paris: Our newest data center in Paris, PA10, which opened in 2023, was designed and built to recover and export the heat produced by customer equipment. We will transfer the surplus heat, free of charge for 15 years, to the Plaine Saulnier urban development zone which includes a pool that will be used at the Olympics in Paris.
  • Toronto: We export heat from our TR5 IBX data center to our energy partner Markham District Energy heat network for distribution to multiple residential buildings and a nearby hotel, hospital and local shopping center in downtown Markham. TR5 also supplies multiple buildings with domestic hot water year-round.

We’re also actively seeking new opportunities to expand the Equinix Heat Export program to other cities and countries.

Making a difference with heat export and reuse

You may be wondering how much of a difference heat export initiatives can make. Here are three examples of what could be achieved by implementing a heat export initiative at a single large data center[3]:

  • Avoid carbon emissions equivalent to taking 13,000 cars off the roads for a year
  • Export enough heat equal to heating ~4,500 homes in a year
  • Produce enough heat in a year to heat ~100 Olympic-sized swimming pools for a month

​The Equinix Heat Export program supports communities as they transition to alternative, lower-carbon heat sources to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels and shrink their environmental footprint. Simultaneously, we improve our operational efficiency, as the heat export process reduces the amount of power required for cooling. It also helps support our customers in meeting their environmental reporting requirements.

Expanding the Equinix Heat Export program to partners

With the right collaboration, data centers worldwide can become vital heat sources for local communities. Equinix is committed to expanding our Heat Export program wherever the local conditions are appropriate, and we can find the right partners. Heat network operators, energy utilities and local municipalities are just a few examples of organizations we can partner with to bring heat export projects to life.

To that end, Equinix is seeking energy utilities and heat network operators to join us in creating meaningful impact in the communities where we operate. Together, we can help communities reduce their environmental footprint by replacing or reducing the use of more costly carbon-intensive energy sources like gas and coal.

For more details about becoming a partner in the Equinix Heat Export program, contact us today.

Learn more about how the Equinix heat export program supports our sustainability initiative of innovative building design.


[1] The Energy Efficiency Act: the public sector is set to become a role model, The Federal Government, Germany (bundesregierung.de), April 19, 2023.

[2] Guidance: Heat network zoning: overview, U.K. Department for Energy Security & Net Zero, January 12, 2024.

[3] Statistic assumptions:

  • Applies to a 20 MW (IT load) data center, which is equal to one of our larger Equinix IBX data centers, such as an xScale location and assumes ~150,000 MMBTU (45 GWh) of recoverable heat per year.
  • Car calculation assumes avoided carbon emissions of 225 LBS/MMBTU (350 kg per MWh) of heat exported from the data center; each car is assumed to emit 2,600 LBS CO2/yr (1.2 tonnes CO2/yr)​.
  • Home calculation assumes ~35 MMBTU (10 MWh) annual heat consumption for a home (75% of heat from data center, 25% from heat pump)​.
  • Pool calculation assumes ~1,500 MMBTU (440MWh) needed monthly to heat an Olympic pool​​.
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