Water Overlooked In Energy Plans, Reports Claim

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Two reports have this week thrown a spotlight on the impact of water on carbon-saving programmes in the data centre

Experts have urged IT departments not to overlook the use of water when developing energy efficiency strategies.

The advice comes as the Energy Saving Trust with the Environment Agency and Parliament’s Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs Select Committee published reports on the energy impact of heating and wasting water this week.

Both reports suggested public and private sector efforts to reduce carbon emissions were failing to make adequate provision for the energy needed to heat water or manage wastewater.

And the Environment Agency report suggested the government update building regulations so that hot-water systems have to comply with the same energy efficiency rules covering their design and construction.

“Currently, six per cent of the UK’s annual carbon emissions is related to water use – nearly 90 per cent of that is from hot water use in the home,” said Ian Barker, head of water at the Environment Agency. “It’s clear we need to find ways of being smarter with the way we use hot water.”

The study from the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs Select Committee highlighted worsening water shortages and called for greater government incentives to encourage corporate and domestic conservation.

David Tebbutt, programme director for analyst, Freeform Dynamics and co-author of Green IT for Dummies told eWEEK Europe that water was fast becoming a key conservation issue.

“It’s a resource which isn’t getting replenished as fast as it’s being used. Aquifers are drying up. Glaciers are disappearing. Farmers and water companies are sucking it out of rivers. So, conservation of the stuff makes sense.”

But he added the reports may misrepresent the economics of water heating and waste: “If you increase the energy efficiency of a property through insulation and heating thermostats, etc., water heating is bound to increase as a percentage of power used. Rising to 70 percent implies it’s getting worse, when in fact it’s not.”

Alex Rabbetts, managing director of specialist data centre consultancy, Migration Solutions pointed out that IT was not exempt: “Data centres are huge consumers of water and the truth is that the demand is growing. Water is used in many data centres for cooling systems and, as the growth in high density, blade environments and the ‘cloud’ continues, so does demand.”

Rabbetts said a 1-megawatt data centre could consume as much as 100,000 litres per day, depending on the type of cooling system in use and how efficient it is. “Typically, water runs through the cooling system and returns as hot water to ‘cooling towers’ or chillers where the heat is removed and then the water cycles through again,” he explained. “Some water however, is drained from the system to remove sediment and this is just wasted.

“What is really sad though is that we don’t do anything with this hot water. Data Centre demand will continue and will certainly rise over forthcoming years. While other cooling technologies are emerging, and in some cases being implemented, the vast majority of large data centres will continue to use water for cooling,” he continued.

“This means that hot water is being produced in large quantities as a waste product. By some relatively small changes to design and a little bit of investment, it would be possible to make use of the hot water that is produced. The water is not uniform and would certainly not be drinkable in any way, but it could be used for community heating or a similar project. What is really needed is just a little thinking ‘outside of the box,’” added Rabbetts.

with IBM predicting that the majority of servers will be cooled by water in future, the potential for re-using the waste heat in that water is clearly going to become more important.