The modern world relies upon an ever-increasing network of dedicated data centres to store and stream information to individuals, businesses and organisations across the globe. Whilst the energy usage of data centres has been well documented, the key role of water is well known. As the footprint of data centres becomes ever larger, there is an increasing awareness amongst designers and operators that these facilities must become both more energy and more water efficient.
Site selection, due diligence and master-planning are key to water efficient data centres
When considering the development of any new data centre, early attention must be paid to water resource management, including availability of reliable water supply, on-site water management and conservation, treatment, and potential for re-use. Infrastructure limits, as well as any environmental, regulatory or political hurdles, must also be considered at the earliest stages of the projects as these can cause delays and lead to increased costs. It is essential that a comprehensive due diligence process is followed, including water management and resilience experts, to identify any potential issues.
Potential considerations as part of this process may include:
• Is there sufficient space for the utilities and to allow for redundancy and reliability;
• is there available existing capacity of the local utility networks to provide for water supply, wastewater, drainage, telecommunications and power?
The interaction between all these utilities can be a point of conflict in the design, requiring coordination between the mechanical, electrical, structural and civil engineering teams to avoid clashes. The use of multi-disciplinary teams is key in managing this process and ensuring that issues are detected early in the design process. For example this can help ensure that sufficient space is made available for storm water retention ponds, or that groundwater wells are not sited in the footprint of potential future structures.
Any regulatory, environmental or stakeholder requirements such as discharge license limits must also be considered. Arup has a track record of liaising with local stakeholders and regulators to determine whether a location has the capacity to meet the needs of the project, and to identify and assess alternative potential sources of water supply and wastewater discharge. These options may incorporate surface water, groundwater, partnering with local industrial developments or a combination of some or all of these.
To support the implementation of these different measures, our team at Arup has repeatedly demonstrated our extensive experience in designing the water infrastructure associated with all aspects of datacentres that may be required. On recent data centre projects this has included on- and off-site infrastructure such as pipelines, tunnels, intake structures at surface water bodies, etc. We have undertaken this in a global context with consideration of local constraints and regulations.
Another important factor in the site selection process for water relates to the potential for natural threats such as flooding, be it fluvial, pluvial, groundwater or coastal. Good design will factor in flood risk assessments (FRA) to evaluate the threat to the site (as well as associated infrastructure such as roads and connecting utilities).
By identifying and considering all the above issues at an early stage, alternative sites can be selected if needed, asset locations can be refined, or design measures can be developed to address these potential conflicts both now and anticipated in the future.
Reduction in water consumption and sustainability a key factor in future data centre developments
As water consumption in the operation of data centres is now a major focus of the industry, the water reuse potential within the development is an opportunity to improve the overall sustainability of a project.
We are proud to have developed the Water Neutral Design (WaND) tool, which assists the development of water management strategies at a conceptual level by estimating baseline demands (through a conventional design), and demands from water efficient building and landscape designs, harvested rainwater, reclaimed water and reduced potable water supply. The tool can be used to assess these factors at a preliminary stage, with more detailed assessments undertaken as a project develops. The concept is to ensure data centres are designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building requirements for water efficiency as a minimum standard.
By incorporating water reuse within the design, through measures including landscaping to enable water efficient irrigation or no irrigation, and the use of rainwater for irrigation and other non-potable uses, consumption can be reduced and water efficiency increased. Other cutting-edge water reuse or efficiency technologies can be incorporated to ensure as little water is wasted as possible. These may include developing partnerships with utilities, local industry or agriculture in the form of sewer mining, providing nutrient rich cooling water which is clear of biological activity to support the agricultural sector, or incorporating new or developing technologies as some examples.
By ensuring water efficiency and reuse is addressed in this way, a company can ensure its data centre development not only adds immediate value, but has sustainability baked into its design. For the companies which build and run these facilities it is imperative that they develop their own efficient water cycle policies to provide long-term sustainability.