Data centres and heavy water demands

Should data centres be worried about heavy water demands

Data centres play an important role in our world today, they are at the centre of digital transformation providing vital services that help businesses and individuals maintain their data systems effectively and efficiently.

Although they are important in the process of digital transformation, they pose a great risk to the environment. Their direct and indirect carbon footprint have many worried that they may emerge as the largest polluters in years to come given the kind of demand they are attracting and their importance as the world moves towards big data capabilities.

The main concern has been data centres’ needs; they are known to consume a huge amount of power with businesses that have not outsourced their data storage and cloud computing needs reporting that their energy consumption is taking a huge proportion of the operational costs.

It is not only power consumption that should have businesses worried; another resource that is required in data centre cooling is water. This is an environmental factor that has largely been overlooked when considering the ecological impact of water usage in the data centres.

Data centres are known to be great consumers of water. Data available five years ago showed that a 15MW data centre may consume approximately 150 million litres of water each year. This is the equivalent of what a hundred-acre orchard may consume or even what a hospital with a bed capacity of hundred patients may use in one year. When you take into consideration that data centres are being established right, left centre and as demand for their services rises, this consumption can be huge. Unconventional estimates have it that in 2020 alone, more than 700 billion cubic litres of water were consumed in data centres.

While most of this water is used in power generation, one may be quick to dismiss the polluting aspect of the power generation plants, arguing that they are based on renewable energy. However, scrutiny on these plants will reveal that they use fossil fuels in water heating to generate steam which turns the turbines that ultimately give us power. This means that in the course of producing electricity fossil fuels and water are used as inputs. While the number of fossil fuels used in power plants may be insignificant when compared to the quantities used in diesel electricity generating stations; one cannot ignore the fact that they leave a significant carbon footprint.

What’s the solution

Every effort should be geared towards reducing the impact that data centres have on the environment. It may seem extreme when indirect water consumption (as in the case of the resource being used to produce power) is blamed for increased data centres’ carbon footprint. With the increase of global atmospheric temperature and the devastating effects, this has on our planet, nothing should be left to chance. We should aim at running our data centres efficiently while at the same time aiming at reducing carbon footprint by significant margins.

Adoption of liquid immersion cooling and other highly power-efficient cooling system is the solution, we will be killing two birds at the same time; achieving efficiency and at the same time reducing the carbon footprint of the data centres.


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