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UK drought: Thames Water asks datacentres to consider using 'raw water' to cool their sites

Utility provider Thames Water is probing the water consumption habits of datacentres within its jurisdiction, as it seeks collaboration opportunities with the server farm industry to ease pressure on supplies

Thames Water has confirmed that it wants to work collaboratively with datacentre operators with sites within its jurisdiction to explore the possibility of using “raw water” to cool their facilities.

Thames Water serves homes and business in parts of London, Kent and Essex, as well as Berkshire, Gloucestershire and Surrey, and confirmed in a statement that it is keen to learn more about how much water is being consumed by the datacentres within its areas of coverage.

“We know there is increased demand for datacentres and we have started a targeted exercise to understand how much water is used by them,” said John Hernon, strategic development manager at Thames Water, in a statement to Computer Weekly. 

“We want to work collaboratively with new centres to reduce their overall water usage and ensure there is enough water for everyone.”

Hernon revealed the company is already “working closely” with consultancy firms that are plotting the buildouts of datacentres in Slough, Berkshire, where there is a high concentration of server farms already in operation.

He claims this collaboration is already yielding results: “Our guidance has already resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of water requested by these new centres due to guidance on additional storage and cooling procedures.”

The past 18 months has seen growing calls for the water consumption habits of datacentres to be more closely scrutinised, following revelations about how some US sites in drought-prone areas are consuming high quantities of drinking water and potentially exacerbating supply issues.

Thames Water, meanwhile, is one of a number of utility providers to take steps to safeguard water supplies after the UK experienced its driest July on record, prompting it to prohibit customers from using hosepipes to clean their cars and water their gardens from Wednesday 24 August 2022.

In the context of datacentres, Hernon confirmed the company is exploring the idea of getting datacentre operators to use non-drinking water – known as raw water – to keep their facilities cool and reduce the pressure these facilities put on supplies of potable drinking quality water.

“Our main objective is to reduce the amount of water required to run a datacentre. It isn’t necessary for datacentres to use potable water for cooling. We want to look at how raw water can be used and reused,” he said.

“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.”

Outside of Thames Water’s jurisdiction there are other parts of London and the South East where there are a high proportion of datacentres sited, which are served by rival utility firm Affinity Water.

Computer Weekly contacted the firm to see if it has any plans to launch a similar probe to the one Thames Water is undertaking, but received no response at the time of publication.

News of the Thames Water probe comes hot on the heels of the General London Assembly (GLA) going public with its concerns about the impact the influx of datacentres in West London and along the M4 corridor is having on local electricity grid and its supplies.

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