10 Ways Equinix is Advancing Responsible Water Consumption

Water is essential to life. It covers 71% of the earth’s surface, mostly in seas and oceans, and it plays a vital role in the world economy. Many industries are dependent on water for production and trade, and it’s an important source of economic, social and human development. However, more than 97% of earth’s water is unusable by humans as it exists in salt water oceans, water vapor, ice caps, glaciers and soil moisture.i In 1993, the United Nations (UN) established World Water Day to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Celebrated annually on March 22, the theme for this year is “Water for all,” and it focuses on the need to remove the barriers preventing access to safe and clean water.

The basic premise of the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda is that sustainable development won’t leave anyone behind. To achieve it, three core elements must be harmonized – economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. I am proud to say that harmonizing these elements is core to Equinix’s DNA.

As we’ve grown, our commitment to the highest standards of ethical and responsible business has never wavered. This is reflected in our corporate sustainability program, which is rooted in three elements of Environment, Social and Governance – commonly referred to as ESG. Environmental responsibility has always been a key part of everything we do, whether we’re building new data centers or upgrading existing facilities. We not only strive to be good stewards of the environment and resources we consume, but we help our customers operate more sustainably too.

When it comes to water, here are some key ways Equinix is making a difference:

  1. Embracing renewable energy

Water is used as a cooling agent by utilities, consequently, water usage will decrease as power shifts to renewable sources. Combined-cycle thermal plants used to generate electricity, nuclear, and coal and oil-fired facilities all use a tremendous amount of water in the generation process. Equinix was the first company in our industry to publicly commit to a long-term goal of 100% clean and renewable power. By the end of 2018, as part of our Green by Design commitments, we covered approximately 90% of our global electricity consumption with equivalent renewable energy purchases, which will result in carbon-neutral data center and interconnection services for our customers and partners. This represents a significant increase over our 2017 position of 77% renewable energy worldwide and our 2016 position of 56% renewable energy worldwide. Our commitment has been recognized by third parties such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), RE100, NAREIT, Smart Energy Decisions and more.ii

  1. Improving energy efficiency

As less power is used, less water is used, and Equinix continually seeks to improve the power usage efficiency (PUE) of our Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data centers. Since 2011, we have invested $100 million in energy efficiency upgrades, retrofits, and improvements; with millions of dollars more in execution. Our investments have helped us avoid 23,000 kilowatts of demand annually or 900,000 MWh since 2011. This is roughly equivalent to avoiding 330,000 metric tons in CO2 emissions around the world. To put that into perspective, it would be the same amount of carbon that 77,000 cars emit driving 800 million miles (or around 11,000 miles each in a year). Equinix has deployed several innovations to help achieve this higher power efficiency such as adaptive control systems, cold/hot aisle containment, ASHRAE thermal guidelines, air- and water-side economizer cooling solutions, energy-efficient lighting systems and more.

  1. Activating artificial intelligence (AI) to solve power challenges

Data centers are typically designed based on a physics model that contains assumptions about IT workloads, external ambient conditions and other variables. Since these variables change dynamically over time, it’s difficult to predict the optimal power for different workload scenarios, making it an ideal use case for training an AI network. Once trained, it will continue to improve over time. Equinix is piloting machine learning and AI in our data centers to identify new energy efficiency improvements and help solve problems such as a spike in IT workloads when the external ambient conditions are hot and dry.

  1. Saving billions of gallons of water with fuel cells

Fuel cells place electricity in close proximity to our energy consumption, enabling maximum efficiency and increased resiliency. In 2017, Equinix announced that we would be deploying fuel cells in 12 locations, and today we have 38 megawatts (MW) of fuel cells deployed in the U.S. Power from fuel cells is 20% to 45% cleaner than the equivalent natural gas-powered generation from a utility. Fuel cells produce significantly fewer carbon emissions than traditional gas-fueled power plants, and they also don’t require water for operation. Equinix’s 37 MW Bloom Energy deployment saves around 4.8 billion gallons of water per year which is a saving equivalent to 7,270 Olympic-sized swimming pools each year or the annual water consumption of 48,000 U.S. households.

Fuel cells at Equinix’s SV5 IBX® in Silicon Valley, California

  1. Tapping the potential of deep lake water cooling

Equinix’s Toronto data center reduces power consumption by using the city’s Deep Lake Water Cooling (DLWC) system to draw water from the cold depths of Lake Ontario. Every winter, the water in Lake Ontario cools to just under 4 degree Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit). This surface water, colder and denser than the warmer water of the rest of the lake, sinks to the bottom of the lake where it remains. Even as the surface water warms over the summer, the dense water at the depths of the lake remains near freezing. This innovative approach reduces fossil fuel energy needs by 50% or more and obviates the need for make-up water intensive heat rejection systems like cooling towers.

Equinix TR2 IBX® in Toronto

  1. Reducing power consumption with ATES and free air cooling

Aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES) is the storage and recovery of thermal energy in the subsurface. By helping to buffer seasonal variations in heating and cooling demand, ATES reduces power consumption. The ATES system at Equinix’s Amsterdam data centers (AM3, 4, 5 and 6) uses cold groundwater to help chill the air on the colocation floor, eliminating the need for traditional mechanical cooling. When temperatures rise above 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit), the ATES system kicks in to keep equipment cool. In colder seasons, the data center relies on hybrid dry cooling to maximize the use of cold outside air as a cooling agent. The evaporative wetting circuit is only engaged when the required cold temperature cannot be maintained in dry operation alone. This way of efficient heat rejection is saving water and resulting in a Water Usage Efficiency (WUE) of less than 1 liter per kilowatt-hour (1L/kWh). Compared to traditional cooling towers, hybrid dry cooling can reduce the annual water consumption by up to 75%.iii Excess heat from the AM3 data center is also used to heat the office building and nearby buildings of the University of Amsterdam.

Diagram of the ATES system at Equinix’s AM3 IBX® in Amsterdam

  1. Building green rooftops

Green rooftops help reduce power consumption and prevent storm water runoff, which is associated with flooding and pollution of nearby lakes and rivers. The plants create natural insulation which means there is less reliance on heating and cooling systems. According to the Green Building Alliance, a green roof can reduce power usage by up to 25% and reduce stormwater flow rates by up to 90% in the summertime.iv By covering the rooftops at sites like Amsterdam, Zurich and Paris with plants and vegetation, Equinix was able to reduce cooling power usage and storm water runoff.

Green rooftop at Equinix’s PA8 IBX® in Paris

  1. Recycling water

Using recycled water is another way that Equinix strives to reduce overall water usage. This includes harvesting rainwater as well as recycling the non-drinkable water. As an example, 90% of the water used in our London data center is recovered and rainwater is also harvested. Our Rio de Janeiro data center in Brazil was also built with sustainability in mind. The rainwater harvesting system there has saved at least 70% in water consumption and 10% in power since it was opened. Another data center in Brazil, our São Paulo SP3 site, collects rainwater that is then treated and used in the evaporative free cooling system. During periods of heavy rainfall, 100% of the cooling water comes from rainfall, saving approximately 700,000 gallons per year. Some of our other facilities in Australia and Singapore also capture rainwater to water plants.

  1. Community engagement: providing water filtration for people in need

Wine To Water is a non-profit organization committed to providing clean water for people in need. The organization uses a special water filter to help families get clean water in hard to reach areas, such as refugee camps and natural disasters. In 2018, Equinix Impact sponsored Wine To Water initiatives that implemented 901 water filters in 8 countries, impacting 18,251 lives. This included disaster relief support to the U.S. east coast after Hurricane Florence, as well as assisting programs for rural women in Uganda. Our Equinix Impact program seeks to enable our employees to have a positive impact in the communities they live in and connect to the causes they care most about.

  1. Helping our customers be smarter about sustainability

Having visibility into current usage patterns is an important first step in becoming more sustainable. Equinix’s data center monitoring software, IBX SmartView, enables our customers to monitor power, mechanical and environmental conditions. It provides real-time and trended visibility of operating data for infrastructure assets through an online portal or customizable SmartView APIs. By tapping into those insights, our customers can make better decisions about improving efficiency and sustainability.

Our customers, like organizations everywhere, are under pressure to show that they are responsible corporate citizens. In a digital age, Equinix is often a critical part of our customers’ digital supply chain, so, as we get greener, our customers’ digital supply chains also get greener. Energy efficiency and environmental responsibility will continue to be a primary focus for Equinix. As our sustainability journey progresses, our commitment to transparency will help our customers achieve their own sustainability goals.

Learn more about how we protect, connect and power the digital world sustainably on our Green by Design page and read our annual Corporate Sustainability Report.

[i] U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Water Science School, How much water is there on, in, and above the Earth?

[ii] Equinix, Green Collaboration and Recognition: Green Awards.

[iii] JAEGGI Hybrid technology, Energy efficient cooling of data centerswith hybrid dry coolers.

[iv] Green Building Alliance, Green Roofs.