Drought conditions are worsening in the United States, which is having an outsized impact on the real estate that houses the internet.
Data centers generate huge amounts of heat through their servers due to the huge amount of energy they use. Water is the cheapest and most commonly used method of cooling centers.
In a single day, an average data center could use 300,000 gallons of water to cool itself, the same water consumption as 100,000 homes, according to Virginia Tech researchers who also estimated that a data center out of five draws its water from stressed watersheds, mainly in the west.
“There is, without a doubt, a risk if you depend on water,” said Kyle Myers, vice president of environmental health, safety and sustainability at CyrusOne, which owns and operates more than 40 data centers in North America, Europe and South. America. “These data centers are set to operate for 20 years, so what’s it going to look like in 2040 here, right?”
CyrusOne was previously a REIT, but was bought out this year by investment companies KKR and global infrastructure partners. When the company moved to the drought-stricken area of Phoenix, it used a different, albeit more expensive, method of cooling.
“It was kind of our ‘aha moment’ where we had to make a decision. We changed our design to zero water consumption, so we didn’t have that kind of risk,” said said Myers.
Aware of the risk associated with water in New Mexico, Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has launched a pilot program at its Los Lunas data center to reduce relative humidity from 20% to 13%, thereby reducing water consumption. He has since implemented it throughout his center.
But Meta’s overall water consumption continues to rise steadily, with one-fifth of that water last year coming from areas considered to be suffering from “water stress”, according to its website. It actively restores water and last year set a goal to restore more water than it uses by 2030, starting with the west.
Microsoft has also set itself the goal of being “water positive” by 2030.
“The good news is that we’ve been investing in continuous innovation in this area for years so that we can recycle nearly all of the water we use in our data centers,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “In places where it rains, like the Pacific Northwest where our headquarters is in Seattle, we collect rain from the roof. In places where it doesn’t rain like Arizona, we develop condensation techniques. “
While companies with their own data centers can do so, so-called colocation data centers that lease to multiple customers are increasingly being bought up by private equity firms looking for high-growth real estate.
There are currently around 1,800 colocation data centers in the United States, and this number is growing as data centers are some of the hottest real estate offering big returns to investors. But the risk of drought is only getting worse. Just over half (50.46%) of the nation is in drought conditions, and more than 60% of the lower 48 states, according to the latest readings from the US Drought Monitor. That’s a 9% increase from just a month ago. Much of the West and Midwest in “severe” drought.
“We need to innovate to get out of the climate crisis. The better we innovate, the less it costs and the faster we will make progress towards meeting these climate goals,” Smith added.