Tech

AWS claims it will return more water than it uses by 2030

AWS has joined the ranks of tech companies making commitments to become “water positive” – meaning they aim to return more precious H2O to communities than is consumed in business operations.

Announced to coincide with the company’s re:Invent conference in Las Vegas – oh the irony – AWS said it intends to become water positive by 2030. The move follows earlier commitments from companies such as Intel, Meta, Google, and Microsoft.

According to AWS, it is already on the way to becoming water positive, and said it will report annually on progress. This will involve details of its water use efficiency (WUE) metric, recycling efforts plus the company’s activities to reduce water consumption in facilities, along with updates on new and existing replenishment projects.

Water positive is a relatively new term, but there is no formal definition for what this means. It can involve techniques such as capturing rainwater, as well as treating waste water for reuse, but the ultimate test is more water returned to the environment than is supplied, making a particular site water positive.

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According to a paper published by David Mytton of the University of Oxford last year, datacenter water consumption in the US stood at 1.7 billion liters per day. This is tiny compared with total water consumption (1.218 trillion liters per day), he wrote, but there are issues of transparency with less than a third of datacenter operators actually measuring water consumption.

AWS lists four pillars of its water positive commitment; efficiency, sustainable sources, reuse in communities, and replenishment. On efficiency, the company claimed it is working to optimize water consumption by using the cloud to analyze water use in real time.

Sustainable sources means using recycled water and harvested rainwater wherever possible, while reuse means that water discharged from its datacenters is safe for many other purposes. Replenishment sees the company invest in water projects where it operates, AWS claims, to expand local community water access.

“Water scarcity is a major issue around the world and with today’s water positive announcement we are committing to do our part to help solve this rapidly growing challenge,” AWS CEO Adam Selipsky said in a statement.

He added that while the company is pleased with the progress made, there is more that it can do.

“We are committed to leading on water stewardship in our cloud operations, and returning more water than we use in the communities where we operate.”

The company announced several new projects in the US, UK, and India.

In the US, AWS said it will work with conservation non-profit Freshwater Trust and the Omochumne-Hartnell Water District to recharge 189 million liters of groundwater per year using winter water from the Cosumnes River. This will allow water to gradually flow through the groundwater table and back into the Sacramento and San Joaquin watershed, increasing water flows during drier summer months.

In the UK, AWS said it is working with The Rivers Trust and Action for the River Kennet to create two wetlands on a tributary of the River Thames. The intention is to recharge over 587 million liters of groundwater per year, addressing water scarcity in the Thames River basin as well as improving the quality by receiving and treating polluted runoff from farms and roadways, it claimed.

AWS earlier this year joined a group of datacenter operators including OVHCloud, Microsoft and others pledging to reduce their water usage as part of the European Green Deal, with the ambitious aim of making Europe climate neutral by 2050.

It’ll take more than climate commitments to impress the Commission though. French DC operator OVHcloud last week was granted dedicated funding for its expansion by the European Investment Bank (EIB), comprising a €200 million ($208 million) credit facility to help it open new datacenters. The bank, which is the “lending arm of the European Union,” said of the loan that it wished to actively support European digital players, with the funding being in line with the EU’s priorities for strategic autonomy in the area of new technologies.

The company claimed that its existing projects in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa are providing 1.6 billion liters of freshwater each year to people in those communities.

According to AWS, it consumes on average 0.25 liters of water per kilowatt-hour of electricity used in its datacenters. It also claims that 20 of its datacenters globally use recycled water for cooling, but with some sources indicating that the company operates over 125 datacenters worldwide, this would represent just a small proportion of its infrastructure. ®


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