by Karl Denninger, Market Ticker:
When do we start holding news media accountable for carrying the water of specific firms that are screwing everyone else?
THE DALLES, Ore. (AP) — Conflicts over water are as old as history itself, but the massive Google data centers on the edge of this Oregon town on the Columbia River represent an emerging 21st century concern.
Now a critical part of modern computing, data centers help people stream movies on Netflix, conduct transactions on PayPal, post updates on Facebook, store trillions of photos and more. But a single facility can also churn through millions of gallons of water per day to keep hot-running equipment cool.
That’s an intentional act undertaken to shift cost to others.
An “air conditioner” is simply a machine that transports heat between two places — from where you don’t want it to where you don’t care. Water has much more heat transport capacity than air, especially if you intentionally evaporate it.
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The basics of an air conditioner are pretty simple: You use a compound that changes state (liquid to gas, typically) depending on pressure in the temperature range you wish to operate. A temperature-controlled orifice is installed inside at the entrance to the evaporator coil, which allows gas to evaporate so long as the coil remains warmer than a few degrees above freezing. Since the amount of heat in the substance remains constant as it evaporates and expands the temperature of the gas and thus the inside coil cools (same heat over more area.) That condenses the water vapor (lowers humidity) in the air inside the house and also cools it (the regulation of flow by temperature prevents freezing the water in the air into ice on the outside of the coil, which would stop the unit from working effectively.) The gas, now at or near the inside temperature returns to the compressor side in the outdoor unit, which, as the gas is compressed, turns back to liquid and thus becomes very hot since the heat absorbed from the inside of the house via the gas is now in much a smaller volume (thus temperature rises.) That denser medium is passed through the outside coil, making it hotter than the surrounding air, and thus heat is dissipated.
Your house probably has such an air conditioner. Nearly all use air source for the final disposal of the inside heat you wish to get rid of; the heat is transported to that exterior coil and a fan sucks air through that finned coil and out the top. The outside, cooler air picks up the heat from the coil and it is rejected to the atmosphere.
You can use intentional evaporation of water to do this, if you choose. If its raining you get some of this “free” but you can rig a misting or spraying device on the coil, or design a system that uses water in this fashion on a deliberate basis. If you do this then you’re intentionally consuming water (it evaporates into the air) to cool your house.
You don’t because the water is expensive and between the water and maintenance cost it is not worth it. Yet in terms of electrical efficiency in cooling your house it would be a quite-significant win to do so because evaporating water requires a lot of heat energy where raising the temperature of the air requires little.
When I ran MCSNet we were in a commercial office building where direct rejection to the air was impossible, since we didn’t own the roof. Our chiller thus rejected the heat in the computer room to an internal building water loop that then ran to the building’s cooling towers on the roof. We were billed for usage of this system every month but that was closed-loop; the hot water went to the roof, it rejected the heat to the atmosphere, and was returned back. I do not know if the building in question used evaporative cooling on the roof or direct rejection — whatever they used and whatever it cost that was part of the bill we were presented based on the metered gallons we circulated through the system.
Do you now understand what is really going on here? There is nothing preventing Amazon or any other firm with a data center from using direct rejection of heat to the air, or for that matter burying a large field of pipe in the ground and rejecting the heat to the ground. Some people have done this with ground source heat pumps in residential applications but it is typically not done because its expensive and, if there is a failure in the pipes, it gets more expensive because you have to dig it back up to fix it.
In other words because you have to pay for the water you would consume at meter rates, or if you have a well you’d have to deal with the chemistry issues (corrosion, etc.) and the power to run the pump, both of which are substantial, or if you decided to use ground-source you’d have to pay to drill the hole(s) and lay the pipe for it you choose to cool your house using direct rejection to the air, and if you have a heat pump you almost-certainly do the same thing for the heat pump’s heating cycle.
Given these facts how is it that this issue has come up with data centers?
Simple: Amazon and others have come up with a scheme to cost shift what would otherwise make no economic sense onto other people. They have found some way to steal a common resource without paying for it at the same sort of price you would pay. If this was not true they would make the same decision you would, which is equally technically viable for them as it is for you.
Yes, their power bill would go up to use the surrounding air as the ultimate sink for the heat they remove from the building instead of using the evaporation of water or the nearly-constant temperature and very high thermal mass of the earth. So what? You too could have a much smaller power bill but the water bill, or the bill to install and maintain the ground-source system, would be large enough if you took that choice that on balance it would make no sense; you’d pay more to heat and cool your house than you pay now.
In short these tech companies are stealing.
Instead of screaming about stupid things make them pay the full cost of their choice and they’ll make a different choice exactly as you made a different choice. In fact, they’ll likely make the same choice you make — but if they don’t, and decide to pay for the water at a rate that covers their depletion’s replacement, as you do, then who cares? Have at it boys provided you pay the full cost of replacement of what you deplete; there’s lots of water on this planet — the problem is that most of it is contaminated with somethin that’s expensive to remove (usually but not exclusively salt.)