Sip or guzzle? This is how Google’s information facilities use water


When Google declared in September 2021 its intention to “replenish 120 % of the water we eat” by 2030, the large expertise firm revealed few specifics about precisely what number of gallons that pledge represents for particular person amenities. That mentioned, its water stewardship staff provided loads of particulars concerning the concepts and partnerships it should use to realize “water positivity.”

On Monday, Google printed some metrics it should use to benchmark that progress, centered predominantly on the info facilities that drive its income, lots of which depend on water to maintain cool. Right here’s the general quantity to ponder: In 2021, Google’s international information facilities consumed 4.3 billion gallons of water, or the quantity of water it could take to irrigate 29 golf programs within the southwest U.S.

Thought-about one other manner, the typical Google information heart consumes 450,000 gallons of water each day. For many who love easy, on a regular basis comparisons, that’s the quantity of water required to develop cotton for 160 pairs of denims, together with the method of turning them into one thing in your closet. So far as U.S. information facilities, Google’s facility in Council Bluffs, Iowa, withdrew essentially the most water throughout 2021 — a whopping 1.1 billion gallons — an element that Google executives tie to the placement’s standing as one in every of its largest campuses. 

“Servers are sizzling. We have to cool them,” noticed Google CSO Kate Brandt once we chatted concerning the firm’s evolving water stewardship technique. That framework has three major pillars, Brandt mentioned: advancing accountable water use throughout its amenities (not simply the info facilities); supporting work on provide and high quality points within the watersheds impacted by its enterprise; and utilizing its expertise to assist different organizations navigate water-related points. (An instance is FloodHub, which makes use of satellites and synthetic intelligence to foretell river flooding as much as one week upfront, permitting for higher planning.)

Addressing the nexus of considerations associated to water and electrical energy consumption — together with the related impression on carbon dioxide emissions — is likely one of the greatest challenges confronted by any large information heart operator. In a weblog about its new dedication, Brandt reviews that water-cooled information facilities use about 10 % much less power than these utilizing strategies associated to air cooling. Final 12 months, the corporate estimated that utilizing water cooling helped Google scale back the “energy-related carbon footprint” of its information facilities by about 300,000 tons of CO2. 

Many of the total quantity of “operational” water that Google utilized in 2021 is said to those information facilities; it withdrew 6.3 billion gallons throughout that fiscal 12 months, in response to its 2022 Environmental Report. Of that quantity, 1.7 billion was discharged. As of 2017, Google was withdrawing about 3 billion gallons yearly, so you may get a way of why Google has centered on improvements associated to “local weather aware” cooling.

That work will speed up, in response to Brandt and Ben Townsend, head of infrastructure and water technique at Google. “We’re working with native hydrologists … We additionally must assess the power panorama and the state of the grid… We are attempting to optimize carbon-free power and responsibly sourced water.” And this equation will steadiness very in a different way, based mostly on location, Townsend mentioned.

To get a way of the probabilities, you possibly can look to Google’s operation in Douglas County, Georgia, the place the corporate is utilizing reclaimed wastewater — of the 422 million gallons withdrawn on the website in 2021, simply 13.2 million gallons had been potable water. 

Though Townsend didn’t disclose the scale of the funding, this was not a trivial endeavor. Google financed the event of a “sidestream facility” about 5 miles away from its information heart. The system intercepts water from the Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority’s remedy plant that may in any other case be discharged into the Chattahoochee River — which holds standing as a Nationwide Water Path. That water is then despatched to Google’s facility to be used within the cooling course of. Any water that isn’t evaporated is handled utilizing effluent gear at Google’s website, after which returned to the river. 

This method close to metro Atlanta represented considerably of an uncommon scenario as a result of many information facilities are away from metropolitan facilities, Townsend mentioned. However by coordinating with the native municipality over the course of a number of years, the corporate was in a position to coordinate a dependable supply of water, he mentioned.

Utilizing reclaimed water is a method within the Netherlands, the place Google helped develop and fund an industrial water pipeline that reduces dependency on groundwater. The plant was in-built collaboration with a subsidiary of the native water utility, North Water. An method utilizing desalination of seawater was thought-about, however discarded due to the extreme necessities of that method, in response to native information protection.

Townsend mentioned that the usage of reclaimed water is being evaluated for each information heart location, however the firm has no particular goal for a way a lot water it should recycle sooner or later. It’s growing new programs that use a low-water different that reduces information heart water use by as much as 50 %, however hasn’t but shared particulars about when that method shall be out there or whether or not will probably be deployed first.

Google’s consideration to water mirrors that of Meta, which has been reporting on its primary water consumption for at the least seven years formally — and prioritizing methods to scale back it for at the least a decade. Meta introduced a objective to change into “water constructive” final fall by restoring water within the areas the place its information heart and amenities have an effect on consumption. In accordance with its 2022 Sustainability Report, Meta withdrew about 5 million cubic meters in 2021, in contrast with about 3.7 cubic meters in 2020. It restored about 2.3 million cubic meters final 12 months, barely greater than it did in 2020.

Microsoft has been much less vocal about its water technique, though it, too, has promised to replenish extra water than it makes use of by 2030. Microsoft contracted to replenish about 45 % of the water it withdrew within the 2021 fiscal 12 months, or about 2 million cubic meters in contrast with its complete consumption of 4.5 million cubic meters, in response to its newest environmental report.

In contrast with its rivals within the cloud computing house, Amazon has had comparatively little to say about its water technique though it, like Google, is prioritizing the reuse of water in its information facilities. 


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