Data center water usage in the United States is growing, even as the country struggles with growing water shortages.
Data center water usage is growing year over year. The water use is primarily dedicated to dissipating heat produced by server farms that house data centers. According to one industry analyst, a 15-megawatt data center can use up to 360,000 gallons of water a day. That use is expected to grow as server farms expand and increase in numbers as the country becomes increasingly internet-based (think crypto-currency and smart gadgets).
Data centers use water, both directly and indirectly. They withdraw water directly to cool servers that get hot during use and they use water indirectly because the electric power they rely on is typically generated at thermoelectric power plants which, in turn, rely on water for their own cooling needs. Data center water use is directly tied to data center energy use.
Data centers at server farms use a lot of energy. In 2014, US data centers consumed an estimated 70 billion kWh, which is almost 2 percent of total electricity consumption in the United States. Energy efficiency methods were expected to keep data center electricity consumption close to that 2 percent figure through the year 2020. While it’s still being evaluated, the impact of all the remote work brought on by COVID-19 is likely to increase the percentage, but further analyses is required.
In the United States, as of 2015, thermoelectric power generation was responsible for over 41 percent of all water withdrawals, making it the largest water use sector in the country. As climate change alters water resources and alters where, when and how precipitation falls, and the country is already experiencing the effects. Thermoelectric power plants and, hence, data centers will likely face water shortage issues as the country struggles with droughts and dwindling water supplies. The industry is beginning to grapple with this and is already making strides to become more water efficient. Searching for balance will be an interesting exercise to keep track of in the coming months and years.