Google Using Sea Water to Cool Finland Project

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Google will use cool sea water in the cooling system for its new data center in Hamina, Finland, which is under construction and scheduled to go live early next year. The initiative continues Google’s focus on data center efficiency and sustainability. Using cool water allows Google to operate without energy-hungry chillers, and also limits the facility’s impact on local water utilities.

The company’s plans were discussed in an article in Computer Sweden (translation in English), which got a tour of the construction site in Hamina. There are no servers in sight yet, but the story reports that Google has refurbished the water pumps used at the former newsprint plant, and will use large pipes to draw cool water from the nearby Baltic Sea.

Adapting Cold-Water Cooling
A number of projects use cold water from large fresh water lakes for cooling. Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has a Lake Source Cooling system that uses water from Lake Cayuga, and the city of Toronto also has a deep lake water cooling system, which benefits several of the city’s data centers.

The developers of the Mauritius Eco-Park have announced plans to develop a system to use sea water air conditioning (SWAC) to support data center tenants, tapping deep water currents that flow near the island nation.

Cold water cooling systems that tap nearby bodies of water tend to have a high up-front cost in the pipe work, but offer huge savings over the long run. Cornell reports that it now uses 86 percent less power than when it used chillers.

Google built its first chiller-less data center in Belgium. Chillers, which are used to refrigerate water, are widely used in data center cooling systems but require a large amount of electricity to operate. With the growing focus on power costs, many data centers are reducing their reliance on chillers to improve the energy efficiency of their facilities. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have all built facilities that use fresh air to cool their server rooms. In the Hamina example, Google is using chilled water, but effectively using the sea as its chiller.

Water Management Benefits
This approach also achieves another Google objective – limiting its facilities’ impact on the local water supply and sewage system. Google has developed one of the most advanced programs to use recycled water in its data center cooling systems, and also works closely with municipalities to ensure that its operations don’t overwhelm the capacity of local sewer systems.

Google hopes to eventually use recycled water for up to 80 percent of the company’s total data center water consumption. “The idea behind this is simple: instead of wasting clean, potable water, use a dirty source of water and clean it just enough so it can be used for cooling,” Google says on its water management web page. “Cooling water still needs to be processed, but it’s much easier to treat it enough for data center use compared to cleaning it for drinking use.”

In Belgium, Google also built a water treatment plant to filter water drawn from a nearby industrial canal. It’s not clear if Hamina will require a similar facility. We’ve reached out to Google to see if additional information is available.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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5 Comments

  1. This will be interesting to follow. Having lived in a marine climate for a third of my life, it is unlike any other. Having owned boats that are designed for use in sea water, I will tell you that sea water is more corrosive and harder to harness thatn just about anything. Even my old car and mountain bike which were stored near the water corroded somewhat. I would love to believe that Google will have a better mousetrap on this one, because I will want my next boat built out of the chiller plant materials they use if they find a way around the corrosion and biology of sea water.

  2. Even if Google finds a more corrosion resistant material that can be used in its pipes, pumps, and heat exchangers, I still do not foresee this approach being wildly adopted. The economies of scale for this type of solution only lend itself to mega-data centers because the pipes, pumps, and heat exchanges (all big dollar items) will need to be replaced frequently (say every decade or so). That type of regular capital expenditure will be hard for CFOs to swallow given their alternative of slightly higher monthly utility bills. Also, this approach requires locating data centers near bodies of water which is a no-no. You are now exposed to floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, expensive real estate, etc. Yes, this is feasible, but after doing a reality check, I don’t feel it is practical.

  3. Mert Boratav

    Hmm, what you dont know is that the Baltic Sea is like a big lake and the salt amounts are much lower than open waters. Once again, you should understand that even if sea water is used, it will be processed into ionized and filtered water to be used in the cooling systems. At this point please do not think sea water is going to be pumped into the system all the time, but the water will be recycled to a reservoir (based under seawater) where the water will re-curcuited back to the cooling system.