by Ibrahim Moiz
New developments and investments are emerging all throughout this region, especially right here in Loudoun County. We are home to the highest concentration of data centers in the world, with more than over 70% of global internet traffic passing through Loudoun County. It is an honorary badge to hold, with tech giants and corporations like Amazon and Microsoft having set their eyes on Northern Virginia as home to their new facilities. But now we must ask the hard question – at what cost?
Data centers operate much in the way a factory would, allowing online browsing, streaming, and communication; but just like factories, they require energy to run (in this case, vast amounts of electricity). The rapid expansion of the internet, and internet-based services, has created a need for data centers in greater size and numbers to meet demand. Though these data centers cater to the internet needs of the entire globe, the expansion of these data centers is densely clustered in one area; and because of
this, local electricity demand has skyrocketed (Cook and Jardim, Greenpeace Reports).
With the amount of energy it takes to fuel the data centers, it generates a massive amount of heat, which in turn must be cooled by a local water source. Data centers throughout the United States consumed a combined 626 billion liters of water in 2014, a number that is projected to hit 660 billion by 2020 (Lifeline Data Centers). True North Data is perfect example of how this affects our environment. The Piedmont Environmental Council voiced their concern, noting “True North Data… is located directly on Goose Creek, just upstream of the public drinking water intake. There are moderate and severely steep
slopes on the site that raise concerns about stormwater runoff, erosion and sedimentation.” – As a native of Flint, Michigan, this concerns me greatly.
We have 100 data centers in Virginia and more will continue to want to come here to Loudoun County. But we cannot forget; Loudoun is home to thousands of families who call this place home and we have yet to layout strict parameters to help protect our environment and community. We must live for tomorrow not today. We must negotiate aggressively to push for the use of renewable energy as the main source of power for all data centers that are here in Northern Virginia.
Despite “significant new investment” in renewable energy sources to power data centers in states like Iowa, Data Center Alley, Virginia, continues to rely on fossil fuels (i.e coal, natural gas), and to increase demand for these fossil fuels as the primary energy source. Less than 5% of energy here comes from renewable sources, a number that is shamefully lower than other regions.
Apple has committed to leading the industry in corporate social responsibility by being powered by 100% renewable energy. We need all of our current and future data centers to make the same commitment to our environment.
One way to do that may be for Loudoun County to create a code of conduct for its data centers to adopt, obligating them to reduce their energy consumption. The European Code of Conduct on Data Centres Energy Efficiency is a great document with a goal to inform and stimulate data center operators to reduce energy consumption in a cost-effective manner without impacting the critical function of data centers.
Our local problems have global solutions and we must look beyond our county, the Commonwealth and the Nation to find innovative solutions.