European data centres lead on water conservation

The water usage of data centres in Europe has to be reduced. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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The water usage of data centres in Europe needs to be reduced. The European Union is leading the way in the worldwide need to conserve the vast amounts of water used to cool computer data centres thanks to a self-regulatory initiative. As data centres can use upwards of 12,000 m³ of water every day – enough to accommodate the water needs of a town of more than 30,000 inhabitants – this is an important development.

By no later than 1 July 2023, European signatories to the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact will certify adherence to the scheme which was established with the support of the European Commission and launched by Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans in January 2021. The pact represents the vast majority of all market actors in Europe and aims to prioritise water conservation as part of its commitment to achieve climate neutrality across the sector by 2030.

Data centre boom expected

This is a timely move given that the information communication technology sector will experience huge growth over the coming years, with 29.3 billion devices expected online by 2030, up from 18.4 billion in 2018. This massive increase in connected devices will require ever more data centres – facilities that houses IT infrastructure for running applications and services, and for storing associated data.

Water reuse needed

Data centres also indirectly consume large amounts of water off-site from power plants which supply them with the huge amounts of required electricity. In 2020, approximately 1-2% of the total electricity demand throughout the world was used by data centres, with more than 40% of this energy being used for cooling purposes. While studies have shown that data centres can operate without problems at temperatures of up to 27°C many persist in cooling servers to 22°C – a temperature that was the standard at the emergence of the industry.

Limit to water usage

Data centre water usage efficiency is measured in terms of water usage effectiveness (WUE) and is signified using the units of litres per kilowatt-hour (L/kWh). The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact (CNDCP) proposed limit aims to ensure that data centres operated by pact signatories will rate among the most efficient globally for their use of water. It also wants to encourage the use of grey water and rainwater for cooling. All sectors in the European industry are working on tools to safeguard water.

Watersaving design of data centres

By 1 January 2025 new CNDCP data centres at full capacity in cool climates that use potable water will be designed to meet a maximum WUE of 0.4 L/kWh in areas with water stress. The limit for WUE can be modified based on climate, stress and water type to encourage the use of sustainable water sources for cooling. By the end of 2040, existing data centres that replace a cooling system are due to meet the CNDCP WUE target for new data facilities.

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