How to win the fight against data center water usage

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Environmental concerns are certainly not new to the data center conversation, but up until this point, the majority of the discussion has centered around electricity. After all, energy usage does have a more direct impact on carbon footprint. Due to changing weather patterns across the globe, the curiosity of how climate change may affect water availability has shifted to the forefront of many minds – especially as it pertains to data center site selection and operations.

A noticeable upward trend in water usage advocacy has largely been driven by drought and extreme heat throughout western North America. During the summer of 2021, the southwest region experienced historic drought conditions, which coincided with a record-breaking heat wave in the pacific northwest. Extreme weather conditions have continued to make headlines in 2022 and experts predict the same for the future.

As a result, climate is increasingly becoming a leading factor in determining the operating costs for data centers, and impacting business decisions for which cooling technologies will work best to meet the updated objectives.

The data center industry is taking a closer look at what can be done to be more sustainable, including examining the relationship between water and data centers.

Water consumption and data centers

Some data center cooling technologies use an enormous amount of water. Direct water consumption of U.S. data centers in 2020 was estimated at more than 34 billion gallons, which has raised concerns from communities and residents that some facilities may be competing for access to their water supply – water that would otherwise be used for things like irrigation, fire system maintenance, and domestic consumption.

A data center project in Mesa, Arizona, for example, was said last summer to require more than 1 million gallons of water per day, while another in site in South Carolina has been permitted to use up to 549 million gallons of groundwater each year for cooling. These are just a couple examples posing a threat to water availability in their respective areas. Several other large water-powered cooling systems are known to consume tens of millions of gallons of water per year.

How data centers are responding

In response, some data center operators have taken steps to move away from using water for cooling, in addition to jump-starting several water-related initiatives. The common goal for many is to achieve net water positive data centers, with a water-free cooling design.

Even large global enterprises, such as Facebook, Google, and 3M, are rolling out initiatives aimed at promoting water stewardship and restoration. Despite this increased effort and awareness, there is still much work to be done by both hosting providers and their clients to improve environmental metrics throughout the globe.

What can be done

Landon Marston, Assistant Professor with Virginia Tech Civil and Environmental Engineering department, together with his research colleagues suggests several ways to address water risks associated with data center operations:

  • Seek locations where a large portion of the electrical grid includes wind and solar generation sources
  • Assess the water scarcity profile for the specific communities in which facilities are based
  • Ask your colocation or hosting provider to address how much water is used directly and indirectly to support computing loads
  • Evaluate how much water is consumed at these facilities compared to industry benchmarks

Compute North data centers protect water usage

Compute North TIER 0™ data centers are fan-cooled and not dependent on water. Our infrastructure is built with sustainability in mind, and because of those conscious design decisions, Compute North data centers do not take away from the water supply in communities surrounding our facilities. Our data centers focus on energy efficiency and have been strategically built in locations prioritizing green and clean energy mixes including wind, solar, and carbon-free assets when possible.

Compute North TIER 0™ facilities feature an average PUE of 1.04 and are approximately 41% more efficient than a typical tier 3 data center. We are taking a leading role in the industry-wide shift toward sustainability and renewables. From minimizing water use to utilizing renewable energy, our aim is to build and operate the most sustainable and cost-effective data center infrastructure.

Contact us today to learn more.

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