It was a well-kept secret. How much water does Google’s data centers suck for cooling each year? Until now, to find out, we could only rely on incomplete data or estimates. Like in Oregon, where a local newspaper investigation suggested that Google’s infrastructure in The Dalles used more than a quarter of the city’s water.
But while water scarcity is becoming a social problem, especially in summer and in regions affected by drought and heat waves, pressure is mounting on industries that are heavy consumers of this public resource. The reason why Google, after refining its communication strategy, finally released some data.
We learn that more than 16 billion liters of water are consumed each year by Google’s data centers in the United States for cooling. A consumption that the company seeks to downplay, indicating that each data center on average – every day – consumes the amount of water needed to irrigate seven hectares of lawn or manufacture 160 pairs of cotton jeans (each of which requires from 7,000 to 10,000 liters of water) . Seen this way, it actually puts into perspective the 1.7 million liters used to cool a data center for 24 hours.
A once well-kept secret
However, the question arises why Google has gone to great lengths to keep this secret for so long. According to the comments of Ben Townsend, head of infrastructure at Google, i New Scientist, it is because of the industrial secret this represents. This information could have been used to – to some extent – assess the strength of each of these data centers.
A priori, this is no longer the case, as Google’s infrastructures have diversified – in relation to location, cooling technologies, etc. In order to put an end to the debates, the company has therefore decided to play on transparency, even if it means that you have to undertake damage control with a lot of greenwashing.
Data transmitted by Google shows that the most water-consuming center is Council Bluffs, Iowa, which alone consumes about 3 billion liters of water per year. However, Google is making an effort, and according to Aaron Wemhoff, a researcher at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, the company’s data centers have a lower water consumption than the American average, or 1.1 liters per day. kWh against 1.8 nationwide. Which, of course, doesn’t take away from the fact that water use in data centers around the world is a problem, especially given the speed at which this infrastructure is evolving.