Water-energy tradeoffs in data centers: A case study in hot-arid climates

Leila Karimi, Leeann Yacuel, Joseph Degraft Johnson, Jamie Ashby, Michael Green, Matt Renner, Aryn Bergman, Robert Norwood, Kerri L. Hickenbottom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although energy and water are intertwined, the analysis of energy consumption in data centers (DCs) has largely ignored water needs. In this study, we utilize established DC efficiency metrics, power usage effectiveness (PUE) and water usage effectiveness (WUE), to analyze the water and energy use in two colocation DCs (DC1 and DC2) located in the greater Phoenix area. These DCs use distinct cooling systems: DC1 uses air-cooled chillers and DC2 uses both water-cooled chillers and evaporative cooling. We also present a method for analyzing the water-energy tradeoff in DCs as a useful tool for DC designers and managers to evaluate different cooling systems. The results highlight that although DC1’s average PUE is nearly 13% higher compared to DC2's average PUE, its source WUE is 66% lower than DC2. In addition, DC1’s PUE is more affected by seasonal changes (variation of dry-bulb temperature), while DC2's WUE has a larger seasonal variation. Our cooling system analysis indicates that hybrid evaporative cooling has the least power consumption, while air-cooled chillers have the most water use. Utilizing free cooling and evaporative cooling when outside air condition permits (∼40% per year), results in substantial power and water savings in Phoenix DCs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106194
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Building energy analysis
  • Data centers
  • Energy efficiency
  • Sustainable infrastructure
  • Water conservation
  • Water-energy nexus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Economics and Econometrics


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