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Data centre operators call for tight new rules on water for cooling

Matt Pullen and drought.jpg

An organisation of more than 100 data centre operators and associations is calling on the European Commission to focus on how much water the industry uses – and is asking for new standards.

The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact (CNDCP), a self-regulatory initiative signed by 74 data centre operators and 23 associations, has presented its proposed metrics for water conservation to the Commission in the latest of a set of meetings.

The aim is to ensure all data centre operators impose the standards by 2040, though use them for new facilities as they are built.

Matt Pullen (pictured), who is managing director for Europe of CyrusOne and chairs the pact, said: “With over 90% of Europe’s data centre capacity represented by signatories to the pact these meetings are milestones on a crucial journey for Europe’s Green Deal and Digital Agenda.”

The pact was set up last year with the support of Frans Timmermans, the VP of the Commission who also leads the European Green Deal and is working on the EU’s first European Climate Law.

Pullen said after the most recent meeting with Timmermans: “We feel we are really hitting our stride in providing relevant, auditable metrics that make significant contribution to accelerating our industry’s shift to climate neutrality.”

His warning comes just days after the Commission’s Joint Research Centre showed that 44% of the EU plus the UK is currently exposed to a drought warning, with another 9% of the area on drought alert.

In recent weeks Portugal recorded its highest ever temperature, of 47°C, and British records exceeded 40°C last week.

The CNDCP said its focus on climate neutrality “demands action on a range of related environmental fronts”. It has identified five areas for action, working with the Commission, including water conservation.

The pact said: “As data centres increase in power and capacity the servers within them require cooling. Several technologies exist, but water-cooling is an efficient and increasingly common approach which uses less energy and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than electromechanical systems. But, with water stress high and increasing in many areas, it is vital that the data centre industry acts to mitigate its use of water.”

The pact is proposing a limit of 400ml of water per kilowatt-hour of computer power (400ml/kWh), designed to take into account “the diverse range of technologies, climates and types of data centre building to ensure that the metric is technology and location neutral”.

The CNDCP said all data centre operator signatories must achieve the new metric by 2040. “This acknowledges the lifecycle of current cooling systems and the embedded carbon cost of early replacement. It does, however, effectively preclude the construction of any new data centres with water-towers which would be unable to meet the agreed metric.”

The pact said: “Every data centre building should be treated as if it was in a high stress water area.” It distinguishes between drinking water and so-called non-potable water – often called “grey water” – and the pact wants to encourage use of grey water and rainwater for cooling.

The CNDCP has established two new working groups to define targets for recycling and reuse as part of a circular economy, and to establish metrics for energy efficiency. These have already started work and will report progress at the next update meeting with the Commission planned for November 2022.

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