Google Chills Out: Eliminates Chillers at Belgium Data Center

sustainable_operations.jpg By Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact According to Andrew Winston’s new book Green Recovery, the average data center uses as much energy as 25,000 households, and he reports, “There is a persistent and believable rumor that Google is the largest single energy user in the state of California.

Google acknowledges that data centers make up a big portion of their footprint. As part of their efforts to shrink the footprint of their new data center in Belgium, they are relying entirely on free air cooling.
Rather than using internal air-conditioning for cooling the hardware, Google is depending on the seasonal low temperatures in Belgium to provide free cooling at its new facility.

Free Cooling
Chillers, which are used to refrigerate water, are widely used in data center cooling systems, but require a large amount of electricity to operate. With the growing focus on power costs, many data centers are reducing their reliance on chillers to improve the energy efficiency of their facilities and save money.
Free cooling is the use of fresh air from outside a data center to support the cooling systems. This approach allows data centers to use outside air when the temperature is cool, while falling back on chillers on warmer days.

Google’s Data Center in Belgium
Google has upped the ante by eliminating chillers entirely at its data center near Saint-Ghislain, Belgium, which began operating in late 2008. The facility also features an on-site water purification facility that allows it to use water from a nearby industrial canal and avoid using municipal water.
As reported in Data Center Knowledge, Google’s strategy will improve its energy efficiency while making local weather forecasting a larger factor in its data center management.

What Happens on a Hot Day?
The climate in Belgium will support free cooling almost year-round, according to Google engineers, with temperatures rising above the acceptable range for free cooling about seven days per year on average (maximum temperatures in Brussels reaching between 66 and 71 degrees during the summer).
On hot days, Google says it will turn off equipment as needed in Belgium and shift computing load to other data centers. This approach is made possible by the scope of the company’s global network of data centers, which provide the ability to shift an entire data center’s workload to other facilities.

The Payoff
As a result of its use of outside-air for cooling the data center, Google will save tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in cooling costs, while also cutting back on the greenhouse gas emissions tied to the electricity used to run the chillers, according to These type of dual-savings IT practices are increasingly common, as a new study from Forrester research found that, although the recession has begun to impact green IT practices, cost savings are a key driver for getting the go-ahead on green projects.

To Learn More
The Green Grid, a partnership formed by major tech companies to green IT, has developed a free cooling on-line tool to help data center and facilities managers easily determine how much free cooling and free evaporative cooling is available for individual data centers.
Using zip codes, the tool allows users in the United States and Canada to input their specific variables – such as local energy costs, IT load, and facility load – to determine the energy savings for individual facilities. Other regions will be incorporated in the future.

Deborah Fleischer, founder and president of Green Impact, works with mid-sized companies to launch green initiatives that encourage innovation and grow market share. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications. You can follow her occasional tweet at GreenImpact.

Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at

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