Chile’s Google ruling highlights use of water for cooling data centres

Chile’s Google ruling highlights use of water for cooling data centres

Despite many claims to energy efficiency, data centres still have questions to answer about water usage, something highlighted by a Chilean environmental court’s partial reversal of a permit allowing Google to build a data centre in the country.

The court this week asked Google to revise its application to take into account the effects of climate change.

Google received initial authorisation for its US$200 million Cerrillos Data Centre in Santiago in early 2020, but residents and local officials have highlighted the project’s possible impact on the capital's aquifer.

Data servers require water for cooling – in this case an estimated 7.6 million litres of potable water a day. Chile is 15 years into an unprecedented drought, with the government enforcing water rationing in 2022. Earlier this month, the deadliest wildfire on record left at least 112 people dead and thousands displaced.

A possible modification of the cooling system of the servers has been suggested by the court. Reuters reports that Google has said it will "continue to collaborate with the requirements of local authorities", adding that in February 2022 it had submitted a change to the original design in order to have the centre air-cooled instead. 

This certainly will not be the end of the issue. As the UK’s Financial Times points out, the world’s biggest technology companies have substantially increased their use of water to cool down data centres, sparking concerns over the environmental impact of the generative artificial intelligence boom.

Meanwhile Google’s Latin American water management problems look set to continue. With Uruguay also facing an extreme drought, local opposition has risen up against Google’s plan to build a large data centre in the department of Canelones in the country’s south.

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