Meta has significantly reduced the amount of water it will need each year to power the data center it plans in Talavera de la Reina, Toledo, a complex that will occupy 191 hectares in the Torrehierro industrial zone. As EL PAÍS reported in May, the first figures included in the development’s technical report spoke of a need for more than 665 million liters of drinking water per year, which would be used mainly to cool the legions of servers that populate this type of installations. facilities.infrastructures. The amendment to the project presented by the technology company reduces this amount by 24%, which falls to 504 million liters per year.
According to company sources, the reduction in estimated consumption is due to the application of more efficient cooling methods. The downward revision in water consumption, however, comes after the Tajo Hydrographic Confederation (CHT), the body that manages the region’s water concessions, issued a veiled warning to Meta. When the Regional Government of Castile-La Mancha notified the registration of the Talavera mega data center project, the CHT prepared a report in which it provided “suggestions regarding the environmental impact” of the project. In this document, it is specified that the water availability of Talavera is 7.110 million liters per year, of which 6.3 billion are reserved for the urban and industrial supply of the municipality. This leaves 810 million liters free for other plans.
The Meta project planned to consume 665.4 million, so, if approved in this way, there would be barely 144 million available for any other activity. “This was going to put the water availability of the concession at the limit. The company dropped to 505 million for image reasons, but also so that the system does not break down,” underlines a spokesperson for Ecologists in Action of Toledo, an organization which considered from the start that the plan added too much stress to a system, that of the Alberche River, already stressed.
The Confederation’s report does not explicitly say that Meta must reduce its consumption, but it specifies that the concession has the capacity to supply the project “within the limits of the parameters reflected in the report” and not beyond. “The conclusions of this report do not presuppose the compatibility of future requests with the Hydrological Plan of the basin,” he warns. That is to say: if consumption were to increase, it is not guaranteed that it will be able to progress. He also warns that Meta must ensure that its facilities have “sufficient capacity to handle the new (wastewater) flows that will be generated as a result of the project”, and asserts that “it must be assessed” whether the cooling water are diverted to the Talavera wastewater treatment plant or if “they can be separated for direct discharge into the public hydraulic domain”.
Progress in processing the project
The correction of the consumption figures declared by Meta was well received by the Régie, which published a favorable environmental impact report at the beginning of December. It was the last green light Meta needed before formally submitting its application for a Project of Singular Interest (PSI), a category reserved for strategic developments and which allows bureaucratic procedures to be accelerated and public land to be dedicated to private activities. The technology company registered PSI’s request last Thursday, as confirmed by the Council, so it will soon be made public and, from that moment, a period of 30 days will open to present allegations. After this period, the Board will predictably approve the PSI and the corresponding implementation plan prepared by Meta.
The President of the Council himself, Emiliano García-Page, has repeatedly highlighted the importance of the development projected by Meta. “Today is Talavera’s big day. This initiative will represent a before and after for the city, and it is only just beginning. This will change the social and economic metabolism of the autonomous community,” he emphasized on March 21, when announcing the project. According to the government of Castile-La Mancha, these infrastructures will represent an injection of around 750 million euros for the region and will employ 250 highly qualified workers. That of Talavera will be the company’s fourth hyperdata center in Europewhich already has facilities in Luleå (Sweden), Clonee (Ireland) and Odense (Denmark).
Data centers are a key part of the infrastructure that enables digitalization and, more recently, the consolidation of artificial intelligence (AI) as a mainstream technology. The demand for this type of installation is therefore exploding. These are large industrial warehouses filled with servers and high-capacity processors (GPUs) that run around the clock in which data is stored and the necessary computer calculations are carried out so that software for mobile phones, tablets and computers computers are working properly.
Data and artificial intelligence drink clean water
The activity of this type of IT farm is so intense that it requires large amounts of energy (in the case of Talavera’s Meta project, 248 MW). And, so that the systems do not overheat, they must have cooling systems, the vast majority of which use water to lower the temperature (electric ventilation is more expensive).
The race by big tech companies to offer AI-powered services has caused data center activity, and consequently their energy and water consumption, to skyrocket. Last year, coinciding with the boom in generative AI, Microsoft increased its water consumption by 34% and Google by 20%, respectively.
What will be the water consumption of the Talavera data center, according to the latest estimates presented by Meta? “It is not very high if we compare it to other activities, but it is very high for the consumption of drinking water, that used by the center,” they explain from Ecologistas en Acción. Data centers typically use clean water because it is much less damaging to circulation and recirculation systems, resulting in lower infrastructure maintenance costs.
“This center alone will consume almost 10% of the entire water supply in an area with around 70,000 inhabitants,” underlines the organization, which also estimates that the new water consumption figures presented by Meta would justify the Commission having to prepare a new environmental impact report. “I don’t know if it will be true that consumption will drop so much given the increase in temperatures and the demand for data,” says Aurora Gómez, one of the promoters of Your cloud dries up my riveran initiative that aims to raise awareness of the environmental and social impact of data centers.
“We prioritized water use efficiency in the project, including the use of drying technology, which requires a minimum amount of water for IT systems cooling operations” , indicate Meta sources. According to the company, opting for air cooling technology eliminates the need to use large quantities of water in the cooling process. “We had considered another cooling option, but were able to opt for a dry cooling solution which significantly reduced water demand. »
According to well-informed industry sources, Meta’s reported consumption for its data center places it among the least water-intensive among large facilities of this type. However, as the Tajo Hydrographic Confederation report shows, development will leave Talavera’s resources close to their limit.
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