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Giant data centres use billions of litres of water to cool down computers

Giant data centres use billions of litres of water to cool down computers
Copyright Unsplash
Copyright Unsplash
By Rosie Frost
Published on Updated
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Our addiction to the internet could be putting local water supplies at risk.


Water scarcity is a growing problem, according to the UN, and the giant data centres that keep us all online could be using billions of litres every year.

Filled with stacks of computers known as servers, they use a lot of energy that in turn creates heat. So that our online services to run quickly and reliably, companies often place these large warehouses close to cities and towns. As a result, data centres are frequently located in hot, dry places where it can be difficult to get rid of this excess heat.

To keep systems running smoothly, water is pumped through the stacks, absorbing heat by evaporating and escaping from cooling towers. This is relatively cheap in comparison to other cooling options and easily accessible in most urban locations, but massive cooling requirements may be putting stress on local drinking water supplies.

For companies like Google, actual water consumption figures are a closely guarded trade secret. However, according to Time, a legal filing for a new facility in Texas, US, suggests that the giant could be going through billions of litres every year.

There will be an estimated 7.2 million data centres worldwide by 2021, says Statista. While numbers of these water-guzzling facilities are on a downward trend, the demand for online services is set to increase as more people are stuck using the internet to communicate. Karma reported that many service providers have seen a dramatic increase in the use of online meeting services as well as traffic from streaming services and video games.

Massive data centres keep us online and have seen a dramatic increase in traffic since measures were introduced to stop the spread of coronavirus.Unsplash

Working to reduce water use

New technology and wastewater recycling could help these essential facilities to curb their water usage. CyrusOne, a company that specialises in building these sites, announced in March that it will be creating its first “net-positive water data centre” in Arizona, US.

It claims that this centre will be restoring more water than it withdraws. By making cooling systems more efficient and thus using smaller amounts of water, they hope to be able to protect resources vital to the local community.

“As far as we can tell, this is the first net water positive data centre in the world, and we hope it will set a precedent for water sustainability standards and the future of data centres,” states Kyle Myers, Director of Environmental Health, Safety and Sustainability at CyrusOne.

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