QScale, a designer and developer of environmentally friendly high-performance computing facilities, has partnered with Énergir Development to maximize waste heat recovery at the Q01 Campus being built in Lévis, Que.
When its eight phases are complete over the next five or six years, QScale's Q01 Campus will represent 96 megawatts of IT capacity across almost a million square feet of building space, powered by Quebec’s largely clean grid.
Énergir is the largest natural gas distribution company in Quebec and is also the largest electricity distributor and the sole natural gas distributor in Vermont. Elsewhere in the U.S. it generates energy from hydroelectric, wind and solar sources.
According to QScale's co-founder and head of strategy Vincent Thibault, the same 96 megawatts could be redistributed via Énergir within a 10-kilometre radius, which includes the campus itself as well as future developments on the land like greenhouses. This represents enough energy to heat more than 15,000 Quebec households.
“We're in the computing business, not the heat recovery business, and Énergir is the giant of energy in Quebec . . . so we said, 'Okay, well, we have this infrastructure that needs to be built to feed all those greenhouses. We have 100 acres,' ” Thibault explained.
“We said, ‘Okay, we need to partner with people that know how to do this.’ It's not our expertise, it’s their expertise. So by teaming up together, I think we'll be able to offer a much better project for the ultimate end-user.”
The QScale and Énergir partnership
The collaboration between the two companies resulted from several months of discussions and some market and technical studies. The first waste heat recovery projects are expected in early 2024.
“The government of Quebec recently announced that they're increasing the financing available for heat recovery projects in Quebec,” Thibault said. “So that was also a big part of the equation of understanding all the capital costs will be financed, but I think now we have a pretty good take on things.”
The Q01 Campus, which currently has 12 megawatts installed, was built with heat recovery in mind, meaning it will be relatively straightforward for Énergir to install pipes to a pumping station. Had it not been constructed this way, Thibault said, attempting a retrofit would be nearly impossible.
“There's liquid that goes through the supercomputer. It gets heated by the supercomputer, and when the warm liquid comes out, it will go through a heat exchanger,” Thibault said. “That heat exchanger will transfer the energy from the QScale side of things to the Énergir side of things.
“There's still a lot of infrastructure to be built . . . Infrastructure is always tough. But the logic behind it is straightforward.”
The reason for a distribution radius of around 10 kilometres is because the recovered heat will be in the form of warm water. The computing centre will also run 24/7, providing a steady heat supply.
"It's a one (to) one ratio. So the amount of energy that's going to be consumed by the computer is the amount of energy that's going to be retrofitted in the form of heat," Thibault explained. "So if we get 12 megawatts of nominal power consumption from the computers, we'll get 12 megawatt of heat."
Previously, QScale president Martin Bouchard told SustainableBiz the clean energy produced for the campus, and ensuring heat generated by the facility doesn’t go to waste, could make the Q01 Campus a carbon-neutral facility.
“Basically the objective is to have Énergir sit in the middle between QScale and the heat user to operate all the infrastructure that transfers the heat from QScale to the end-user,” Thibault said.
The Q01 Campus
QScale was founded in Quebec City in 2018, and construction on the campus began in May 2021. Each phase represents another 12 megawatts of capacity. Next year, the plan is to finish Phase 2 and start Phases 3 and 4 simultaneously.
The infrastructure and agricultural complex for the greenhouses will be built and financed through an as-yet-unannounced partnership, although Thibault said to expect an announcement with “an experienced greenhouse producer” soon.
QScale may not stop with greenhouses, and is looking into other projects it can implement on the campus to aid in its environmentally friendly mission.
“We're open to doing other projects, such as aquaculture, for example," Thibault said. "People that would need to dry wood or grains or stuff like that.”
The company previously had a deal with Hydro Quebec to access 142 megawatts reserved to operate the facility.
When fully built, the campus will result in approximately 816,000 megawatt-hours in annual energy savings and 146,576 tonnes of annual greenhouse gas savings. It will represent $1 billion in investments.
“Data centres consume something on the order (of) four per cent of the planet's energy. So if we could use that as a heat source, we could . . . kill two birds with one stone,” he said.
“I think by giving the example that it can be done, we can force the Google, Amazon (and) Microsofts of the world to put some effort into actually reusing all the heat that’s generated by those facilities.”