Number-crunching servers may just save you money while they heat your house

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The heat computers generate is usually regarded as an undesired side-effect, but what if that ambient energy were re-purposed for heating homes? That’s the question Dutch utility company Eneco is setting out to answer in a partnership with data provider Nerdalize.

Nerdalize’s servers, appropriately dubbed “e-Radiators,” aren’t your everyday, off-the-rack units. As with a traditional radiator, they heat water that is held in a closed loop. Nerdalize allows you to regulate the water temperature to between 45 and 55 degrees Celsius via a knob on a side of the unit. The e-Radiators will be installed in five homes across the Netherlands as part of a limited trial, with the aim of determining whether the servers are viable replacements for other, more conventional methods of heating.

Eneco’s experiment isn’t exactly the first of its kind, and an earlier venture has been noted by PC World. The University of Leeds in the U.K. is using a server to warm a radiator in one of its laboratories, and Germany-based Cloud&Heat cuts costs by placing servers in offices and homes. Significantly, however, the Eneco trial is the first to focus on residential applications and the first endorsed by a utility company.

If successful, the benefits for server providers will be obvious. Without the need to pay the overhead traditionally associated with cloud services, companies like Nerdalize can price competitively, lowering the cost of service between 30 to 55 percent in some cases. But the high electricity requirements of servers — as much as 8,000 kWh per year — may give utilities pause. Initial projections are promising, though — Eneco spokesman Marcel van Dun said e-Radiator users could see an annual decrease in their household heating bill by an average of €400 (about US$440).

If you happen to live in the Netherlands and hope to sign up for future tests, you’ll need a speedy Internet connection; the servers will perform computational tasks delivered over broadband, reverting to simpler calculations when the connection fails to continue heating.

Of course, you could just go the DIY route, instead. A gaming rig to heat the bedroom, anyone?

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