Renewables and Water in Play for Facebook Data Center Siting Competition

A competition between two locations in the western United States highlight two big sustainability issues for mega data centers - energy and water. Utah and New Mexico are both vying for a new Facebook "data warehouse".

Broadcaster KOB identifies the New Mexico site as Los Lunas, south of Albuquerque. "Filings say Facebook wants the data center to be operable by late 2017. But the [New Mexico Public Regulation Commission] first has to approve the sites where new solar and wind generation facilities to power the center would be built, and how much [power utility] and Facebook would have to pay. Facebook said in filings that it would like to have the center operate fully off renewable energy."

The Salt Lake City Tribune identifies the Utah site as West Jordan, south of Salt Lake City. "as the company builds through six phases that would make it one of the world's largest data centers, at 550,000 square feet." Utah is working through similar energy sourcing and cost issues as New Mexico, but is also focused on water. "West Jordan City Manager Mark Palesh said reports that the data center would use 5.3 million gallons of water per day were based on the company's worst-case scenario...But McAdams said the city would need to commit that volume whether it's all used or not. That's 5.3 million gallons that can't be used elsewhere, he said."

Other economic incentives are in play in the competition, in addition to an attractive power supply.

Energy has become a major issue in siting mega data centers, with cost, renewables, and cooling all major considerations. This has led to creative siting decisions, ranging from Iceland to America's Columbia River Valley.

Data center water is a similar location driver. Responses have ranged from use of free-air cooling to reduce water needs to using sea-water. These issues make locations like Utah and New Mexico, with hot climates and scarce water, unusual choices for mega data centers. The prospect of low cost and/or renewable energy appears to outweigh those concerns. Utah has two mega data centers operated by the National Security Agency .