Cooling towers 101: AT&T's pilot program cuts water usage
Within 20 years, demand for water is forecast to grow by 40 percent. Globally, the middle class is expected to more than double by the year 2030, putting an even greater strain on water resources. Businesses need to start planning for these trends today.
As a telecommunications company, AT&T may not seem like it would be a large water user, but through its many facilities across the nation it does have significant water demands. The company has teamed up with EDF to explore operational and technology approaches to cut its water consumption.
Every day, buildings in the U.S. consume approximately 47 billion gallons of water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. AT&T’s facilities consume about 3.4 billion gallons per year, with 125 of its facilities accounting for nearly 50 percent of the company's total water consumption.
In this video, Tim Fleming, AT&T Senior Energy Manager, explains the relationship between energy efficiency and water efficiency in building cooling systems. The company is paying close attention to the water that it consumes each year to cool its office buildings, data centers and other facilities. Cooling systems can drain as much as 25 percent of a building's water supply, which is a serious concern for facilities in areas where water is scarce. For companies like AT&T, the water used in the cooling process is enough to fill more than 5,100 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Cooling towers send cold water through buildings to remove heat from air spaces, taking that heat back to the cooling tower to start the process again. As water evaporates, solids are left behind, requiring more fresh water to help dilute them. Cooled water is used to reduce air temperatures in AT&T's buildings, and to chill data servers that power the company's growing data networks.
Those data servers are crucial to AT&T's operations. Data traffic on AT&T's network grew 20,000 percent from 2007-2011, and as data usage continues to increase, the demands on AT&T to keep its network of more than 300 million people connected will only grow. AT&T aims to stay ahead of this problem with water-saving strategies that make good business sense and help the communities where it operates, some of which are located in drought-prone areas.
With EDF’s guidance AT&T has designed a pilot program to test and measure operational improvements and practices in the cooling process. The pilot program is also testing non-chemical approaches to treat the solids left behind in this process, using far less water. The pilot sites represent many different climates, including water stressed areas, and building types.
Once the improvements and best practices are identified during the pilot phase, AT&T plans to roll out the project across its other facilities. Eventually, AT&T and EDF will spread these cooling efficiency and water management tactics broadly, helping to cut water demand across virtually every industry sector.