The French  distributed data center firm Qarnot has sold a batch of its Q.rad devices, which combine cloud computing with room heating, to Gironde in South West France.

The Conseil Général of Gironde in Bordeaux has bought 346 of the Q.rad digital heaters for €865,000, and will install them in a new building where they will use electricity to perform computing tasks, while providing free heating as a by-product. The deal has been announced during the Climate Summit in Paris, and uses a new version of Qarnot’s Q.rads, which will be officially launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2016. 

qarnot computing
Qarnot’s Q.rad (version 1)

Free heating

For most data centers, heat is an unwanted waste product. It is difficult to recycle or harness it because data centers are usually remote from potential users of the heat. Qarnot turns that around by breaking a high performance computing (HPC) data center into small units located in homes or offices. HPC tasks are distributed to the units: Qarnot pays for the electricity used, so the heat is free.  

The new version of the Q.rad includes integration with sensors around the home so the heat can be distributed intelligently, and is also manageable over Wi-Fi. 

Already, the French bank BNP has tried using Q.rads in Paris homes to distribute risk calculations. The new installation is Qarnot’s first big contract, and the 346 digital heaters represent a step forward, given that in early 2015, the company had shipped about 350 heaters in total.

Paul benoit Qarnot Computing
Paul Benoit Qarnot Computing – Peter Judge

The units will be placed in a new building which contains council offices and social housing - an important fact for Paul Benoit, the founder of Qarnot. While Benoit set out to solve the problem of waste heat, the system is now being presented as a means to enable poorer households to heat their homes.

”With an average expenditure of €1800 per year on heating, one in five French households is in fuel poverty,” says the press release, adding that heating has become a critical issue for many in France. Around 88,000 households in Gironde are in fuel poverty, Qarnot says, and assistance with heating is a major priority for the Gironde Department of Housing. 

The idea of digital heating has been proposed by Qarnot and a few other companies, notably Cloud&Heat of Germany which offers an OpenStack cloud service, Nerdalize in the Netherlands whose digital heating devices resemble Qarnot’s but are being offered through a deal with an energy utility, and Exergy, a cloud-heating Kickstarter project in the US,