Water Consciousness Continues in the Data Center

Availability and Alternate Sources of Water

The availability and cost of water are quickly climbing in priority on the site selection checklist as this critical resource becomes more precious.

There are certain locations where the municipal water systems are being stressed and you will pay accordingly for a high capacity water tap. One such situation occurred in Ashburn, VA when RagingWire tried to obtain a larger water service for its cooling needs. The cost would have been four million dollars, according to a presentation by James Kennedy, director of critical facility engineering for RagingWire, at the Fall 2012 7×24 Exchange conference in Phoenix. They instead turned to reclaimed water for their cooling needs. In most situations, reclaimed water is of a very high quality and can be obtained at a fraction of the cost of potable water.

Researching alternate water sources may not only save you on initial and operating costs, but it may also provide the ability to operate independently from municipal water sources. There are instances such as Google’s data center in Hamina, Finland where they use seawater for cooling. There are locations in Nebraska where irrigation wells are available to provide up to 1,500 gallons per minute of water at 56⁰F. These are just a couple of examples where the alternate source of water not only provides independence from a municipality, but the water temperature enables the reduction or elimination of certain pieces of cooling equipment most data centers would require, thereby saving a great deal of energy.

As data centers come under increasing scrutiny for using potable water for cooling purposes, securing a reliable source of water will become more important moving forward and the value of alternate sources of water will only increase. The examples discussed illustrate the complex relationship between energy, water, and sustainability. In my next column, I will discuss this relationship, as well as Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) and data center hydro-footprint.

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in water conservation projects, visit DCK Coverage on the topic: Data Center Water Use Moves to the Forefront, Google Using Sea Water to Cool Finland Project, Google Boosts Its Water Recycling Efforts, and Google Recycling Water for Atlanta Data Center.

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  1. I agree with this articles suggestion to increase the use of non-potable water for cooling. Unfortunately not every AHJ will allow the use of non-potable or reclaimed (gray) water. As our demand for water increases, I expect that this position will be reversed. Let's save the potable water for drinking.

  2. Mike Mann

    Reclaimed water is commonly used on the scavenger side of "indirect evaporative" cooling of data center loads (e.g. SFR Santa Clara) but most likely not for "direct evap" cooling due to the potential for water-born contaminants being introduced directly into the airstream. Potable water is still a good energy and OpEx reduction option for direct evap data center cooling in many locations and can be managed to optimize "WUE". If data center owners are willing to operate under ASHRAE TC 9.9 Allowable conditions, there are many US locations where compressorized cooling equipment is not needed.

  3. carl

    Air cooled chillers are my first choice over water cooled. Air cooled units are achieving pretty good IPLV ratings now-a-days. Cooling towers are high maintenance, water usage, water chemistry and additives, cleaning and aah not to forget the routine PM and unforeseen repairs.

  4. Lee

    Good comments regarding the importance of water. Current heat wheel technology, specifically KyotoCooling technology, is extremely efficient and has zero water usage. As water becomes more and more scarce, data center developers, users, and designers need to take a serious look at waterless cooling systems.

  5. Rob

    Water management evaluation at the site level will show the opportunity for more integrated stormwater control through reuse. Technology is available to allow for such with many successes throughout the US and points beyond. The Water/Energy Nexus is a complicated one, when considering air cooled equipment has embedded water costs upstream of installation.