UK's largest water company investigates datacenters' use as drought hits

Utility says there's no reason facilities should be using drinking water, but also wastes a lot itself

Thames Water has started looking at the amount of water used by datacenters in the area it serves around London as parts of the UK are hit by drought.

The water company, which serves parts of London and the Thames Valley, said it has begun a "targeted exercise" to understand how much water is being used by datacenters, of which there is an increasing number in London and along the M4 motorway corridor, where many tech companies are located.

Thames Water's Strategic Development Manager, John Hernon, said that his company wants to work with new datacenter operators to reduce their overall water usage and ensure there is enough water for everyone.

"We are already working closely with those consultants planning for new datacenters in the Slough area. Our guidance has already resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of water requested by these new centers due to guidance on additional storage and cooling procedures," he said in a statement.

Not all cooling systems in datacenters rely on water, and Thames Water says that even where this may be the case, it isn't necessary for datacenters to use the drinking water that comes from its supply pipes.

"We want to look at how raw water (non-drinking water) can be used and reused," said Hernon. "That's why we want to engage with these businesses as early as we can so we can influence important processes requiring water from the outset. We will be also working with retailers and developers on this as well."

Thames Water has itself faced criticism for wasting water due to leaks from ageing pipes, with its network losing almost a quarter of the water it supplies, said to be more than 600 million liters per day by some estimates.

Datacenter operators are already increasingly aware of the potential environmental impact their facilities are having, and there have been steps to address some of these issues.

Last month, a group of datacenter companies and industry associations presented the European Commission with its proposals for minimizing water use. The Climate Neutral Datacenter Pact proposes a limit of 0.4 liters of water per kilowatt-hour of compute power (0.4l/kWh) deployed, and claimed that facilities complying with this would be among the most efficient globally for their use of water.

However, operators that sign up to the pact have until 2040 to achieve compliance, but may find that they will be forced to become more water efficient long before then.

Datacenter operators have also been the subject of criticism recently because of the amount of power being consumed by the growing number of facilities in and around London, with a report in the Financial Times claiming that there was insufficient power available for new housing projects in West London because of this. The datacenter industry disputed this, however. ®

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