Why UK data centres should be worried about water consumption


Electricity and water are the two main resources required for data centre operation, yet for the UK data centre market, the use of water remains of little concern. As global economies begin to regulate their water conservation efforts, it is only a matter of time before this sector, alongside many others, is held accountable for its use of water.

Here, Tim Bound, Director for Transtherm Cooling Industries, a leading innovator in adiabatic cooling technology, encourages specifiers to take water-conscious approach to data centres.

A recent US Geological Survey has suggested that by 2020, data centres across the pond will consume around 660 billion litres of water per year, making the US data centre market one of the highest consumers of a rapidly depleting natural commodity. The statistics are on a similar scale for the UK, with data centres relying heavily on water in order to regulate and maintain internal temperature, especially in facilities using traditional cooling tower methods compared to more efficient hybrid or adiabatic systems.

In the US, water consumption (or lack of it) is a critical component in the specification of cooling equipment. Whilst it is arguable that weather variables make water more abundant in the UK and therefore make it less of an immediate concern, the conservation of water is a humanitarian issue and one which should rightfully cause political and social concern at a global level, not just in the countries which experience drought or have geographies which are synonymous with less abundant natural resources.

The latest statistics from the United Nations states that in industrialised nations, industry consumes 80% of water available for human consumption, with the World Health Organisation stating that half the world’s population will be living in ‘water-stressed’ areas by 2025. These statistics – and many more like them – should make one of the world’s most progressive and technologically advanced industries sit up and take note of its consumption rates, and more importantly, what it can do to improve the environmental impact of its mission critical operational processes.

Cooling towers, hybrid and adiabatic technology – the truth about their water consumption

There are three common specification choices for data centre cooling; traditional cooling towers, hybrid coolers and adiabatic systems.

Given that cooling towers rely on evaporative cooling throughout the year, achieving little to no sensible cooling, and hybrid systems begin to evaporate water in ambient temperatures as low as 10°C, it will be no surprise that adiabatic coolers consume less than 1% of the water used by traditional cooling towers, and approximately 2-4% of that used by wetted surface hybrid coolers. Even when operating in wet mode, adiabatic systems automatically vary the amount of water used to minimise consumption whilst still hitting required water temperatures in varying ambient conditions.

If we examine those figures more closely, as water consumed in cubic meters over a one-year period for a 1000kW unit, an adiabatic cooler consumes 92 m³of water, compared to a wetted surface hybrid cooler which requires 8,647 m³ and a conventional cooling tower which is more in the region of a staggering 18,220 m³.

Did you know we recently won the DCS Cooling Innovation of the Year award for our work on legacy data centres? Why not talk to our team today?