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Helsinki [ENERGY]

In a Second World War bomb shelter in Helsinki, a cunning new system has been devised to turn people’s growing reliance on computers into a way to heat their houses. The bomb shelter, which is located beneath a 19th-century Orthodox cathedral, houses a 2 megawatt database server centre run by Finnish IT company Academica. Cooling the machines is expensive, however. So Academica has done a deal with local authorities to swap the heat its computers generate for cold water and free server space.

The water used by Academica to cool its servers is channelled to a local plant where the heat energy is separated from the water and transferred to provide enough heat for 500 Helsinki homes or 1,000 apartments. The cold water is then sent back to the bunker to start cooling the servers again. And so on. The first of its kind, the project lowers Helsinki’s reliance on coal-produced energy, and saves Academica €150,000 a year. “Database servers account for 1 to 2 per cent of energy used worldwide,” says engineer Juha Sipilä of Helsingin Energia, the municipal energy company. “We estimated that if all data centres used this system, global database centre energy consumption could be cut by half.” And a lot of houses could be heated for less. Follow the Finns, we say.

More ways to heat houses:

01 Onion power: California’s Gills Onions, which sells diced and sliced onions, converts 680,000kg of onion waste into ultra-clean, renewable energy per week – providing enough electricity to power 460 homes annually.
02 Hot houses: The University of Nôtre Dame, Indiana, has a plan to use the heat its computers generate to warm a nearby conservatory full of cacti and other desert plants.
03 Untapped waters: The US Department of Energy has given two grants worth $1m to Lockheed Martin to explore the feasibility of extracting heat from the sea.

Into the light?

Britain [DAYLIGHT SAVING]

How can a country save billions at the flick of a switch? Turn the lights off. Academics, environmentalists, politicians and even the police in Britain are calling for the country to put its clocks forward permanently by one hour so that in winter the country would be on GMT+1, and GMT+2 in summer. Lighter evenings would cut crime, carbon emissions and road accidents as well as encouraging tourism, claims the Campaign for Daylight Saving, which says the move could boost the economy by £3.5bn (€3.9bn) a year. They are pushing for a trial of the new time zone from autumn 2011.

Election watch

Netherlands [VOTING]

Type of election: The 150 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs in June.
Big names: Geert Wilders, the controversial anti-immigration, anti-Islam politician and his Party for Freedom (PVV) are tipped to do well. The former minister for immigration, Rita Verdonk, is also leading a new nationalist party called Proud Of The Netherlands.
Prime ministerial front runner: Hard to say. Current incumbent Jan Peter Balkenende, of the Christian Democratic Alliance, has held the job since 2002 without commanding a parliamentary majority. His chief rival is the new Labour leader and former mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen.

Tighter net

Russia [TECHNOLOGY]

Anybody with an email account will have wearily deleted endless suspiciously enticing business or romantic propositions from addresses suffixed .ru – the internet domain of Russia. Aware that this is not good for Russia’s image online, authorities now demand that anyone wanting to create a new domain name provides passport details or company papers. The hope is that those who make new web addresses to post fake company websites or to send out spam will not be keen to provide ID. Will it work? For now, it’s best still to assume that bubbly, vivacious Olga from Yekaterinburg may not have your best interests at heart.

Canal plus

France [HAULAGE]

France is getting into barges. The government is pushing for more heavy goods to be moved along waterways to get lorries off the roads and to cause less damage to the environment. Barges are more fuel-efficient than lorries and can carry much greater loads. A new 54m-wide canal is being planned in north-eastern France to link the river Seine to northern European rivers by 2016. But will French lorry drivers fight it?

Green team

Germany

Debate is raging over how bad the effects of climate change will be. But who’s doing what right now to keep their country green? In Europe, Germany leads the way, as conservation laws protect 54.4 per cent of land and sea. This compares with 15.1 per cent in the UK and only 3.1 per cent in Belgium.

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