Data centers use water for cooling hot servers and electrical equipment—an Olympic-sized swimming pool every two days, in fact, according to Data Center Dynamics.
Air exiting electrical equipment is cooled by passing though an air/liquid heat exchanger. The liquid coolant picks up heat from the exchanger on its way to cooling towers, where water helps remove heat from the coolant. A significant amount of water is lost through evaporation and blow-down, or system purges.Pre-conference workshops Repairing Entrenched, Incised, and Degraded (Urbanized) Streams – Techniques and Case Studies Monday August 28, 2017 and BMP Selection to Improve Your Watershed Monday August 28, 2017. You may register for these without also registering for the annual conference. Download the StormCon Conference Program here.
According to the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, data centers consumed roughly 165 billion gallons in 2014. And as the internet expands, data centers use an increasing amount of water for cooling and electricity generation. The Lab estimates that by 2020, annual data center water use could rise to about 174 billion gallons.
This is particularly significant in water-scarce environments where water withdrawals and rights can cause contention. Several major tech companies operate data centers in arid, water-challenged parts of the country. There are 800 data centers in California. eBay has a data center in Salt Lake City. Microsoft has one in San Antonio. These companies bring jobs and economic opportunities to communities that help them thrive. But they also place water-challenged cities in a compromising position in which they must appease tech companies while also protecting their natural resources.
Google has a data center in Berkeley County, SC. The company recently requested permission from regulators to draw an additional 1.5 million gallons per day from the underground aquifer to help cool the servers. According to the Post and Courier, the data center already uses about 4 million gallons of surface water per day.
The newspaper also reports that more than 11 million gallons per day of groundwater are pumped by wells in the three counties around Charleston. The water pressure is steadily dropping, demonstrating that the supply is not able to replenish quickly enough to sustain itself.
Several individuals, including Emily Cedzo of the Coastal Conservation League, have voiced concern about the impact of increased water withdrawal on the underground aquifer. In an interview with NPR she pointed out that Google is uses recycled wastewater at its data center in Douglas County, GA. “It’s great to have Google in this region; folks are proud to say that Google calls Charleston home,” Cedzo said. “So by no means are we going after Google . . . Our concern, primarily, is the source of that water.”
Industry experts foresee water conservation as an area in which the data center industry will likely keep innovating. As Michael Kassner points out in a Data Center Dynamics, “In less than a decade, data center operators have addressed the power issue and taken responsibility for how much electricity they use, with most of the major data center operations moving towards using 100% renewable power. In another 10 years, we may see similar changes around water use.”
What are your thoughts? Should data centers like Google’s Berkeley County facility be granted additional water withdrawals? Will quenching their thirst today delay the development of future water conservation technologies?