POSTED BY Cherie Ching

The heat and perspiration that one naturally produces while going out for a morning jog are the effects of a ‘machine’ producing energy to run, cool down, and release a type of ‘waste heat’ left over.  On a larger scale, data centers and manufactures also generate energy to run and cool down, releasing a greater amount of ‘waste heat.’  One difference, however, is that the waste heat created by these manufactures and data centers has the potential to be utilized into renewed energy, therefore, preventing the need for another source of energy.

Manufactures and data centers create heat waste, a byproduct of the energy produced, which can be processed into emission-free power and clean energy.  Amazon is planning to implement this process in their new Seattle office buildings by transferring heat from data centers in the same block.  Their plans will not only allow the waste heat to be rerouted for other energy sources, but also prevent dangerous emissions during the process.  Our dependence on technology rapidly increases and we as individuals also contribute to daily low-grade waste heat energy.  This waste heat is emitted into and remains in the immediate atmosphere, causing the same type of effect that greenhouse gases cause.

The Secretary and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy have been working together since December 20, 2007 to implement a voluntary national information program called Energy Efficiency for Data Center Buildings for companies interested in significant energy saving.  42 U.S.C.A. § 17112 (2007).  Similarly, the Waste Energy Incentive Grant Program was initiated for energy efficiency and successful electricity production or incremental useful thermal energy from waste energy recovery.  42 U.S.C.A. § 6343 (2007).  It is uncertain if these incentives have produced enough results to show that more companies are participating in waste heat technology and energy efficiency.

Both programs are comparable to Seattle’s credit for hydronic heat system and encourage a more efficient use of waste heat.  However, by requiring companies to capture and process their waste heat into renewable clean energy, federal and state governments may infringe companies’ Fourth Amendment rights.  Fourth Amendment rights issues may include the right to choose how the company manages their energy sources, who they do business with, and what costs to incur in order to capture the waste heat.  In addition, property rights issues may arise with the technicalities of how the waste heat is transferred, such as with underground water pipes for Seattle’s hydronic heat systems.  The process to reuse the waste heat might end up creating more waste heat than the original waste heat.

Addressing this type of law would impact environmental law significantly because companies will be required to include a waste heat plan into their blueprints and financial budgets.  In addition, there will be more research conducted on the negative impacts of waste heat to the atmosphere and, state and federal governments will be forced to implement strict regulations on the emission of waste heat.  However, at the moment, companies are not obligated to use their waste heat or concern themselves with its effects after it is released.

To require employment of waste heat technology for clean energy may lead to Fourth Amendment issues because there is a lack of regulation on the amount of waste heat that can be emitted by companies.  By continuing to incentivize the transformation of waste heat into usable energy, more companies will hopefully participate.


Cherie is a 2L Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology Law at Suffolk Law.  She enjoys running and competed in the Track and Field 400m hurdles during her undergraduate program at Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, CA. 





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