I am typing this article, will save it, and then share it on social media, doing all these activities, I would have used a few liters of water.
No! I don’t mean the amount of water I will drink in this timeframe, I am referring to the water that is consumed for my internet activities.
We know manufacturers use water for their various processes, did you ever imagine that Information Technology (IT) is also one of the prominent industries that use water to do its operations? If you know it already, you are part of the industry or someone very knowledgeable, if not, then let’s dive in.
Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Microsoft, among many other software companies, are the default platforms for most of us every day. When we use these platforms, our data (documents, posts, videos, images, etc) are stored in their data centers.
Without getting into technicalities, a data center is a facility where computer equipment and infrastructure are connected for the purpose of storing, processing, and disseminating information. As the data centers run on electricity, they need to be kept cool to avoid overheating and causing disruption in the services.
Therefore, these technology companies need some kind of cooling technology for their data centers and in most cases, water cooling towers are used to ensure these centers are cooled effectively.
As per some estimates, depending upon the size of the data center, between 5 to 20 million liters of water are required every day, which is about the same that can suffice a small town.
As per market research company Statista, there are more than 6000 data centers across the globe, and the majority of them are located in the United States. As data consumption increases and as more devices connect to the internet, there will be a need for more data centers which consequently would entail the extra need for water.
That is the reason we are seeing many USA-based tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook making water pledges, which means they want to reduce their water consumption and also put water back into the environment.
All these tech giants have made similar commitments to replenish more water than they consume by 2030 and support water security in the regions they operate. To achieve this the company plans to reduce water usage in its offices and data centers and in addition have partnered with NGOs, organization, and other local social groups to take action around water conservation.
According to WWF, billions of people around the world face water shortages every day. According to Water Resources Group, by 2030, water demand is expected to exceed the current supply by 40%.
While one major factor of water scarcity is infrastructure, climatic changes and unrestricted use of water by industries across the world are putting more stress on our water resources.
We cannot ignore the contribution software and information technology play in our lives and also in fighting climate change, but we also need to be cognizant of the inefficiencies in the current IT infrastructure.
Therefore whether it is energy consumption, water consumption, or managing e-waste, large IT companies need to be held accountable and take action.
IT industry use of water needs solutions
Agriculture, textiles, meat, beverages, and automobiles are the leading culprits of water usage, given the context, software and information technology are also included in the list of industries that use a lot of water. Only when there is widespread acknowledgment, solutions are created.
Let us look at some of the solutions being worked on.
France-based Scaleway operates all its data centers on renewable energy and one of its centers is based on an adiabatic cooling system (evaporative process), which minimizes the use of water.
Amazon (AWS), another large data center company also runs a few of its data centers on the evaporative process.
In 2018, Microsoft started an experiment to see the impact of data centers in the deep sea near Scotland. After 2 years, when the performance was evaluated, it was found the data centers were “reliable, practical, and use energy sustainably”.
Finally, we hope the IT industry especially the large players does more research and provides much better solutions that are less resource-intensive and better for our environment.