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How Industry is Addressing Data Centers’ Energy and Water Use

Data centers are one of the fastest-growing industries worldwide, especially with the rise of AI. According to the International Energy Agency, data centers could double their electricity usage in the coming years, reaching 1,000 terawatt hours in 2026. AI has the potential to drive economic and environmental progress in unprecedented ways, but the data centers also require enormous amounts of water and energy. Addressing the resource challenges will be critical to ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry.

>>>READ: Tech Giants Are Looking to Power the Cloud with Nuclear Energy

One challenge data centers present is the large amount of water that is needed to keep servers cool. In 2021, Google used an average of 450,000 gallons of water daily at each of its centers. A survey from Savills notes that European data centers can put a strain on local water supplies, with liquid cooling accounting for approximately 20% of the total European cooling market.  

Nautilus Data Technologies is addressing these water use challenges with innovative designs. Nautilus has created a floating barge data center that pulls water from the ocean to cool servers. The company has also launched a land-based cooling system called EcoCore, which they can add to existing facilities. EcoCore uses Nautilus’ patented closed-loop water-cooling system which results in no additional water or chemical use. It also operates on 30% less power than leading competitors. 

With three locations in the country, Nautilus is setting up a multi-megawatt center with Start Campus, a green data center campus, in Sines, Portugal, the company’s first outside of the U.S. Nautilus is also planning to launch its floating data center designs in projects Marseille, France and with AltaSea at the port of Los Angeles, California. 

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Waste heat, which is the excess produced by IT equipment and servers during operations, also brings challenges to the data center industry at large, but the private sector is stepping up to address this.

In Denmark, data centers owned by Meta and Microsoft are being developed to redistribute surplus heat from the centers to regional heating networks. One example includes the Tietgenbyen heat pump plant in the city of Odense which will recover 175,000 megawatt hours of heat from Meta’s data center and use it to provide heat for over 12,000 homes.  Designed by Ramboll, the system involves a range of heat exchangers combined with pumps and piping.  The larger the data center, the greater the distance the heat can be transported and reused. Fashion retailer H&M has indicated that it plans to build a new data center capable of heating over 2,000 apartments, while Apple aims to use waste heat for office buildings.

>>>READ: 4 Ways AI Will Deliver Energy and Environmental Benefits

Qarnot Computing, based in Montrouge, France has taken a slightly different approach. It places small banks of computers to expel heat into homes and other buildings. Residents and tenants get free heat, while the computer capacity is sold to corporate clients. According to Qarnot, the minimum scale on which it can operate involves an apartment building housing 20 units but the company is aiming to provide heat to individual homes. As of 2020, nearly 1,000 social housing units were heated by Qarnot.

As the use of data centers rapidly expands, the private sector around the world is working to meet the industry’s massive energy and water needs. The investments made today could pay dividends down the road by driving down the cost of sustainable technologies.

Angela Youngman is a long established freelance journalist and author based in the UK specialising in business, sustainability, travel, tourism, leisure, food & drink.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

Copyright © 2020 Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions

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