Seawater cooled data centers

swac-mauritius

Remember Mauritius from High School geography? We didn’t either, but apparently it’s a small island nation east of the southern tip of Africa. It seems they are trying to develop an industry in eco-friendly data centers. The plan is to use a pipeline to gather cold water from the ocean, run it two miles to the island, and use it as inexpensive cooling. Because rooms packed with servers generate copious amounts of heat it’s easy to see how this can reduce the cost of maintaining a data center.

The thing that struck us here is, how eco-friendly is this? The article mentions that this technology is fairly mature and is already used in several places. With that in mind, isn’t this just another way to raise the temperature of the oceans, or does the environmental savings of not using electricity or gas to produce the cooling offset this?

[Thanks Vesanies]

Comments

  1. James says:

    I’d have to run a few calcs but I’m fairly sure that the damage done by warming the ocean directly versus normal AC-induced carbon production is quite compellingly small.

  2. Owen says:

    Just heating the ocean does nothing to the long-term temperature of the ocean and the world. Using gas or coal to power your cooling system puts carbon into the atmosphere, which has a very long-term effect on the world’s temperature.

  3. jeff-o says:

    AFAIK this method is used in Toronto to cool some of the large buildings near the lakeshore (lake Ontario).

  4. Seth says:

    The ocean has about 350 quintillion gallons of water. That’s 350 billion billion gallons.

    This data processing plant would effect the ocean about the same as you peeing in it.

  5. Charlie says:

    Whether you run AC and bleed all the excess heat into the air or run a closed loop system and bleed all the excess heat into the ocean, the long term impact is pretty much indifferent between the two. As was pointed out, particulate pollution is much worse for our health, and greenhouse gas emissions are much, much worse for global warming, and this system by needing less energy to run, would use less electricity than otherwise, thus being better for the environment and our health.

  6. Seth says:

    Didn’t mean that to sound snarky. It’s a good question that you raised, btw.

  7. Greg says:

    This must use a pump right? How much electricity does that consume to pump the water 2 miles? That electricity is probably generated using coal. There’s your pollution.

  8. hulaghu says:

    IIRC I’ve heard that it can be a problem. Yes there are a quadzillion gallons of water in the sea, but the heat isn’t distributed evenly — it’s funneled near the surface and near the shore, where there’s a lot of sensitive life. I seem to recall something like this causing issue with coral near the coast.

  9. Taylor Alexander says:

    @Greg
    The diagram clearly states that the system uses 1/10th of traditional A/C. Obviously they took the pump into account when coming up with up that figure, or it wouldn’t make any sense.

    -Taylor

  10. Lance says:

    @Seth Your comment made me laugh

    I once worked at a Nuclear Plant we used a similar system except it was a lake. A public one. No harm. Actually made fishing intresting around the exhaust. It kept the water at ~85F all year so during those cold winter mornings it is very steamy in the area. So bad that fishers couldn’t see but they could hear each other.

    I agree with Taylor, I’m sure they took into account the pump power.

  11. Simon says:

    10 times the energy efficiency also means 10 times less heat produced.

  12. ruster says:

    I am one of those kooky deniers. I Don’t believe that a difference of %.005(.035 to .040)in the concentration of CO2 can make a measurable difference in global temperature. CO2 is very low on the scale of green house gases at a very low concentration. Water vapor is very high on the scale and in very high and varied concentration. I am tired of the “cost” of “global warming”. I do believe in point environmental impact, like the dead zones created by the chemical wastes from making hybrid cars. Their are always unintended consequences; more often from from the good intentions of the uninformed masses and their misguided causes.

  13. stunmonkey says:

    I lived on an island in the Pacific that did something similar. The cooling produced craploads of condensation as a bonus byproduct, as well as generating small amounts of electricity from the temeperture differential.
    It acted with NO additional energy input after it got started, actually generating a slight surplus of power, cooled the buildings, and acted as a bonus desalinization plant for fresh water and irrigation as a side benefit.

    Can’t go wrong there, other than you have to have a pretty deep cold ocean trench pretty near to shore, so it only works in a few parts of the world. Continental shelves need not apply.

  14. stunmonkey says:

    temepeture. I’m sure it had a lot of that as well, but it had a decent >temperature< differential too! ;)

    need more coffee.

  15. Jack says:

    its called thermal pollution, warming the local waters changes the temp allowing more O2 in the water, this makes some species die and some flourish, it happens all the time around nuclear power plants that cool their reactors with water, its not good for the environment, i’m a Surfer you can trust me, i care about the quality of the ocean i also did a project on this back in high school

  16. stunmonkey says:

    @Jack

    When properly done, the water is taken from the COLDER depths, warmed in use, and then passed back to the WARMER, shallower spots.
    Optimally, the water being dumped is at exactly the same temp as the rest of the surface water, and radiators or intermediary cooling ponds make sure of it.

    There is >NO< thermal pollution in one of these systems. None.

    You are thinking of older systems, especially in rivers, that took water directly from the surface, heated it, and dumped it right back warmer. Those were a really bad, really destructive idea.

  17. Owen says:

    @ruster
    Whether or not there’s an environmental benefit, it’s hard to argue with a 90% decrease in electricity consumption.

  18. ruster says:

    “point pollution”

    I lived i honiara, solomon islands, where cyclones destroy the reef and shoreline constantly. They also destroy many artificial structures. But nature recovers. At red beach the jungle has taken over again, where there was an airport blasted out by army engineers. I don’t advocate wasting nature at all. but give her credit. she’s a strong planet. be nice to her, but:
    “get your hands out of my pocket”. -x

  19. ruster says:

    oh i am all on board with this project. thats my point $$$

  20. Dan says:

    I have to think that such a method of cooling will harm the various life forms in the water be it plant or animal. No it would probably not be harmful if a dozen or so plants did this, but what happens when millions start doing the same thing?

  21. Owen says:

    @Dan
    The heated water will be returned at a higher elevation, where the surrounding water is the same temperature. How will it harm the local flora and fauna?

  22. uncivlengr says:

    I hope Jack was being facetious in his appeal to his own authority, because aside from the valid points stunmonkey made above, he has it completely backwards – warm water holds *less* dissolved oxygen (DO) than cold water. It also increases the biological oxygen demand (BOD), as bacteria, etc thrive in warmer temperatures. Low DO and high BOD are what often cause fish kills and generally reduce water quality.

  23. vburke says:

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one asking this. I don’t see this being a good idea considering what it does to the environment (try to get environmental approval for the hot water exhaust of a nuke plant) and the are other options much more cost effective for data centers.

    Vern

  24. Owen says:

    @Vern
    What, exactly, does it do to the environment? The water being put back into the ocean is the same temperature as the ocean at that elevation.

  25. aztraph says:

    Owen: i’m sorry, your an idiot, to think that man has a larger impact on the environment than the sun is utter stupidity. your ego is too big to fit into hack-a-day.

    to everyone else, this is a good idea, they aren’t cooling a nuclear reactor, just a bunch of buildings in the middle of the ocean. there wouldn’t be any noticeable short term or long term effects.

  26. no_name_in_sight says:

    i don’t believe in global warming its a crazy idea that has hardly any evidence behind it if you look at the life span of the earth temperature variation happens every 100 years or so. but i do believe in saving money. so if we could find a way to harness water and wind and sun to power and cool everything i would be all for it and having asthma the less poultion the better
    why cant we recycle things like smoke from the fires to produce more heat its cheap and wouldn’t b too hard
    this is the kind of fwd thinking this world needs

  27. T.n says:

    @owen>vern

    Tell me if im wrong, the water removed from the lower cooler part of the ocean is removing the heat from the closed loop, then placing the warmed water at an acceptable level. But what happens when you run out of lower cooler water, or remove too much and replace too much slightly warmer water………… it boggles the mind

  28. amishx64 says:

    If the water going back in is too hot, it would cook the marine life directly around that area. Not good.

  29. Owen says:

    @T.n and amishx64
    The returned water is the same temperature as the water in the ocean at the elevation. Nothing is cooked.

  30. vburke says:

    @T.n You’ve got it, exactly.

    Vern

  31. Owen says:

    Oh, and T.n, it’s hard to run out of cold water in the Indian ocean.

  32. amishx64 says:

    @Owen: Thanks for clearing that up.

  33. stunmonkey says:

    It is a good idea, and has science, logic, and sound engineering principles behind it.

    This is why it will fail.

    The environmentalists are famous for fighting at least twice as hard against green ideas than dirty ones. Mainly because they are tools so easily led by FUD, mainly from the big corps they supposedly hate. The corporate guys have to laugh themselves silly at steering all the green dittoheads into cutting thier own throats so often and so easily.

  34. Jim says:

    If the water for a desalinization plant must be heated in the process, then putting a water-cooled datacenter upstream of it would make sense. (Aside geography, politics, etc.)

    Jim

  35. BigD145 says:

    This will encourage red tides.

  36. VonSkippy says:

    Maybe they could pump the hot water to my shower.

  37. amishx64 says:

    I like VonSkippy’s idea. Do a heat exchange system and heat up water in homes. Don’t know how practical that is but it’s a good idea.

  38. Nick says:

    Most of mauritius’s power supply comes from hydro electricity and fuel for the few thermal power stations ( mainly backup) come bagasse, a fibrous plant residue from sugarcane.

    Its a tropical country, waters in the lagoon are pretty warm anyway, I am pretty sure the flow rate of the cooling water can me modulated to reach a thermal equilibrium, such that the water being returned is similar in temperature to the lagoon in which it is being returned. I say, well done to them.

    As long as they keep the energy required to keep the system running clean, its cool

  39. J H says:

    If one didn’t have abundant fresh water, this could be used to cool the computers and produce quantities of clean water from salt water via evaporation and condensing. That’s assuming there’s enough temperature difference.

  40. Seth says:

    The author of the piece asked “With that in mind, isn’t this just another way to raise the temperature of the oceans…”

    The answer to that is “no.”

    But many of the comments have correctly pointed out that on a local scale there can be harmful effects from these kind of operations.

  41. The DON says:

    It has been said before in these comments, and should be said again.
    The warmer water coming away from the datacenter (or any other building) can be used to generate energy, or to reduce the energy consumed for another unrelated purpose.
    A good example would be to use this temperature to warm up water used in a steam turbine, thus reducing the energy required to convert water to steam, ergo increasing power output from the turbine. Lots of other uses, like warming water for shower, thus requiring you to heat the water less. etc….

  42. Nathan says:

    While one company doing this may not cause lots of problems if every one on the coast did we could have new environmental problems. Some ocean creatures are not capable of surviving under warmer conditions. If every company started dumping heated water into the ocean their would be a rise in temperature as more companies did so. The added effect could kill local life as well as cause changes in the ocean currents which controls our weather system.

  43. stunmonkey says:

    @ Nathan

    The basic lack of understanding of the concept, effects or scale, and the incorrect but horrific-sounding nature of the effects when oversimplified to a sound bite, is precisely why technologies like this will not flourish.

    Instead we will continue burning coal and fossil fuels, and if an alternative comes up PAC’s and “concerned citizen organizations” backed by those energy companies to the tune of $millions$ make sure the same groundless fears and FUD you just spouted are on everyone’s lips and 30 second TV spots.
    Welcome to hell.

  44. Owen says:

    @Nathan

    The water being dumped is the same temperature as the water in the ocean.

    Read that again.

    @stunmonkey :'(

  45. cyanide says:

    i don’t like this.

    it seems like another one of those good ideas that is going to be advertised for being green, and that’s why everyone will want it. even if we put it in practice and discover some terrible flaw with it, people will already be petitioning companies to use this method to cool datacenters and other hot spots in the building. there’ll be a huge shitstorm and we’ll still have to keep it up, even though it’ll do more harm than good.

    kind of like compact fluorescent bulbs.

  46. pwrx says:

    Removing colder water from the ocean depths and replacing it with warmer water at higher depths absolutely lowers the ceiling at which water start getting cooler. Sure it’s only a 0.00001% impact, but these are the same degree of impacts greens go ape-shit about when we’re talking about the atmospheric temperature.

    It’s about $. If this is cheaper for the company in the long-run, go for it.

  47. Dan Fruzzetti says:

    It’s more efficient because there are fewer changes of energy types. Heat energy is just moved, producing a little extra friction heat. Air conditioning does that at the added expense of converting it to trees (joke) then heat then mechanical energy then electrical energy then back into mechanical energy (as with an electric air conditioner)… That’s a lot of changes of state… It’s gotta be the better process.

  48. mikula says:

    and slowly warming our oceans YAY!

  49. jeff-o says:

    What I don’t understand is the people who still aren’t getting this. It’s a fantastic idea.

  50. amk says:

    This process might be more energy efficient, better for the environment, etc. But as data centers become more efficient to maintain, the demand is going to increase. And that demand isn’t going to be conveniently located near a coastal area.

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