AT&T Targets Cooling-Related Water Savings
By John Schulz, Director of Sustainability Operations, AT&T - November 2012 - Facilities Management
While water is a relatively inexpensive way to cool large buildings today, it represents an important target for improvement. With water becoming an increasingly precious commodity, the imperative for companies like AT&T to become more efficient in our use of water for cooling will only grow. To that end, we have teamed with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to rethink our water usage for facility cooling.
We’ll provide periodic updates of our efforts through World Water Week and beyond here on facilitiesnet.com. Ultimately, our goal is to share these experiences and lessons so others can reap the financial and environmental benefits at the energy-water nexus, as well.
Here's where we stand. AT&T began a process to better understand the company’s water footprint by looking at our 2010 water usage data. From our analysis, we discovered that out of thousands of company sites, approximately 125 facilities accounted for almost half of our 3.4 billion gallons of water usage from municipal and commercial sources.
Since that assessment, we’ve heightened our efforts to identify water-savings opportunities. With EDF’s help, we are now putting into place several pilot programs to test and measure the real-world impact of strategies to increase the efficiency of our water, chemical and energy use in our cooling systems.
Our team has identified a select group of pilot locations among our list of top-consuming sites representing a diverse range of facilities in our building portfolio. These facilities are sprinkled across the country, covering a wide range of geography and climate. Some are large buildings full of network equipment. Several are data centers. Two of them have a substantial tenant population. Most of the facilities are in water-stressed areas and several of them have the ability to use free-air cooling. This diversity in our site selection gives us the opportunity to evaluate performance in both operating efficiency and environmental impact.
At these sites we are testing new technologies and enhanced operational procedures to reduce water usage. For example, we have installed high efficiency softeners to achieve near zero blow down—the water emptied down the drain to remove accumulated solids in the water— with minimal or no chemical use. We are also working to maximize our use of free air cooling in order to reduce our need for cooling towers in the first place. And when towers are needed, we are optimizing their efficiency by installing meters to see where water is flowing within the system, engaging our water treatment vendor to ensure optimized maintenance, and maximizing cycles of concentration to reduce blow down.
This summer, we’ll collect baseline data on water usage for the pilot sites, monitor cooling system performance, and develop key performance indicators for water and electricity use. This will allow us to gather data on the sites’ performance throughout the year, and work with EDF to develop the broader business case for water and energy efficiency investments related to facility cooling.
John Schulz, Director of Sustainability Operations, AT&T, will be providing regular updates on the company's work with the Environmental Defense Fund to decrease water usage.