Despite the benefits of cloud computing, there is ongoing concern about the amount of energy and cooling resources needed for the surging number of data centers the world over. These buildings are 10-40 times more energy intensive than a typical office building, and market studies suggest that data centers constitute 3% of the world’s current energy use. This figure is expected to double every 5 years for the foreseeable future.
In France, a young company working is seeking to change the paradigm. Using a disruptive business model, Qarnot Computing has developed a distributed system of high performance cloud computers that are installed throughout residential and commercial buildings as radiators for free heat. Under the pilot program, and with some government funding, currently more than 100 French households are heated for free with Qarnot’s “Q.rad” radiator-computers, which also serve the business and research community by processing data remotely for major banks, 3D animation studios, and laboratories.
Not only are the computers deployed in every room but they also form the fabric for an advanced smart home network that avoids the standard challenges of smart home/building infrastructure, including power supply, network access and on-site computing capacity. The Q.rad is designed to be deeply integrated into daily life, with more than 20 sensors in each unit for monitoring variables from air quality to light levels, motion, humidity and temperature. It also provides occupants with communications capability including voice recognition, wi-fi, and Bluetooth. The unit even includes inductive wireless charging using the Qi standard. The Q.rad can be controlled remotely with a mobile phone or through a secured web interface.
A Q.rad unit heats a 150-300 square foot room in any building that meets modern insulation standards. The unit produces a softer radiant heat as opposed to forced hot air. The temperature can be regulated by thermostat. Qarnot maintains a minimum computing capacity all year round to ensure heat, and works with partners who often have computing tasks requiring years of processing power.
Qarnot provides data security for computing clients through state-of-the-art encryption and authentication, and no Q.rad units include any data storage. The units have secure cable connections for higher performance as well as data protection, and like all desktop computers, circuitry is encased in a metallic box to protect against weak electromagnetic signal dispersion.
Qarnot’s intended business model is to provide residential and organizational heating free of charge while selling the computing power to companies and research centers. The sale of these services pays for the power consumption (and the heat generation). Each Q.rad continuously records its energy consumption and computing use, which enables Qarnot to bill its computing clients and refund the electricity consumed.
Cleantech Concepts will be following the company closely as they embark on commercialization. They are targeting larger installations requiring a minimum of 20 units, from hotels to senior care facilities, with residential sales beginning in 2017. Qarnot earned more than one million euros in sales last year.