Microsoft, Meta and others face rising drought risk to their data centers
Data centers generate massive amounts of heat through their servers because of the enormous amount of power they use. Water is the cheapest and most common method used to cool the centers.
In just one day, the average data center could use 300,000 gallons of water to cool itself — the same water consumption as 100,000 homes, according to researchers at Virginia Tech who also estimated that one in five data centers draws water from stressed watersheds mostly in the west.
“There is, without a doubt, risk if you’re dependent on water,” said Kyle Myers, vice president of environmental health, safety & sustainability at CyrusOne, which owns and operates over 40 data centers in North America, Europe, and South America. “These data centers are set up to operate 20 years, so what is it going to look like in 2040 here, right?”
There are currently about 1,800 co-location data centers in the U.S., and that number is growing, as data centers are some of the hottest real estate around, offering big returns to investors. But the risk from drought is only getting worse. Just over half (50.46%) of the nation is in drought conditions, and over 60% of the lower 48 states, according to the latest reading from the U.S. Drought Monitor. That is a 9% increase from just one month ago. Much of the west and Midwest in ‘severe’ drought.
“We need to innovate our way out of the climate crisis. The better we innovate the cheaper it becomes, and the faster we’ll move to reaching these climate goals,” added Smith.