Microsoft data center guzzles scarce water supply amidst heatwave

Microsoft data center guzzles scarce water supply amidst heatwave

Dutch media report that a Microsoft data center in the province of North Holland consumes more water than initially indicated. At the same time, the country faces water scarcity amidst a heatwave.

The data center is located in the municipality of Hollandse Kroon. Local media report that the data center used 84 million litres (84,000 cubic meters) of cooling water last year. Microsoft and the municipality told residents that water consumption would be limited to 12 to 20 million litres. The stats are evident from classified information recently made public. 84,000 cubic meters is equal to 33 Olympic swimming pools.

Microsoft data centers are typically cooled by air. Water cooling is a backup for times when temperatures are too high for air cooling.

The municipality in question often cites the importance of air cooling in data center when discussing data center construction plans and permits. The usage of drinking water is noted as backup, and therefore not viewed as a potential problem. However, the recently uncovered classified information shows that the estimated data center water consumption was 100,000 cubic meters, much higher than previously disclosed. The municipality since adjusted the water consumption figures on its website.


In a response to the newspaper, Microsoft stated that the expected 12,000 to 20,000 cubic meters were calculated based on “consumption at that time”. The period Microsoft refers to is unclear. The tech giant gave no further details.

It’s now known that the 84,000 cubic meters consumption applies to the entirety of 2021. The data center site was expanded with new buildings, which increased consumption. The current site is about the same size as it was in June 2021.

Microsoft claims it only cools with water when outside temperatures are too high for air cooling. The limit is 25 degrees Celsius. That limit was exceeded on only six days of the entirety of 2021, according to data from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.

Difficult time

The issue arises at a sensitive time. The Netherlands faces water scarcity. Water consumption is currently the subject of a fierce debate between municipalities in the province of North Holland. Local drinking water company PWN called on residents to use drinking water sparingly.

Activisits and politicians that oppose the establishment of data centers in the province said that the municipality can expect further questioning on the data center’s water consumption.

Tip: Microsoft says it will deploy hydrogen fuel cells for datacenters