Looking for a new green spot for a data center? Check out this desalination plant

The Monterey Canyon, image courtesy of DeepWater Desal.

A company called DeepWater Desal is planning a controversial large desalination plant — which cleans up sea water for use — on the Monterey, Calif. peninsula. If it gets built it will spread across 100 acres next to the Moss Landing Power Plant and will use reverse osmosis to make 25 million gallons of drinking water per day.

But the big hitch with desalination plants is that they can be ultra power-intensive. And that’s one reason why DeepWater Desal is looking to co-locate the desalination plant next to a data center that will also use the cold water from the bay for cooling its heated servers. Amazon‘s data center guru James Hamilton seems to like the idea and wrote about it on his blog this week.

A conceptual mockup of a desalination water plant and a data center co-located. Image courtesy of DeepWater Desal.

A conceptual mockup of a desalination water plant and a data center co-located. Image courtesy of DeepWater Desal.

If a data center operator bites, and the project gets built, the water from the Bay — which will be very cold and from deep in the Monterey Canyon in order to avoid disrupting the marine ecosystem — will get pumped through the data center’s cooling heat exchange. Essentially, the data center can get cooled for free, and the ultra cold water can be warmed a bit, which makes the desalination process more efficient.

It’s a symbiotic relationship, and the overall power needs of both facilities are lowered together. As data center operators draw lessons from these types of projects, and become more in tune with the surrounding ecosystems, expect to see more of these types of joined resources. Google built a data center on an old paper mill in Finland, which uses seawater for cooling. Apple has been particularly interested in building data centers around clean power resources.

The desalination plant still needs to be approved by local and federal regulators. The residents and businesses of the Monterey Bay need fresh water from somewhere, as they’re already facing a water shortage crisis due to the ongoing drought and dwindling supplies.

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