Huge data centres accelerate drought in Spain

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data centres
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Spain is increasingly becoming the destination of choice for large technology companies. In recent years, American law giants such as Google, Meta, Oracle and IBM have established their data centres in the country. In 2024, Microsoft and Amazon entered the market with mega projects that invested millions of euros in essential infrastructure for the internet and artificial intelligence (AI).

While these investments promise jobs and position Spain as a digital hub in Southern Europe, experts warn that rising energy and water consumption could worsen the country’s climate crisis.

New investments from Amazon and Microsoft

Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that it will invest €15.7 billion in four new data centres in Aragon. Together with three existing data centres, they will form a network covering 400 hectares and creating 17,500 jobs. Furthermore, Microsoft will quadruple its investments in Spain to €1.95 billion for new centres in Madrid and Aragon. According to the ministry concerned, this could lead to 69,000 jobs.

Data centres are a key component for large technology companies and essential to modern digital life. Due to the ongoing digitalization and the rise of artificial intelligence, the demand for this type of infrastructure is increasing enormously. In fact, they are large warehouses full of computers running day and night. These store data and perform calculations remotely so that network applications work on mobile or fixed devices. The activity of this type of computer farms generates so much heat that large cooling systems are required.

Energy and water consumption

These large cooling systems consume enormous amounts of energy and water. According to digital infrastructure specialist Dgtl Infra, large data centres use an average of 25 million litres of water per year. For the largest centres, this amount rises to 760 million litres per year. Last year it was announced that Meta’s mega data centre in Talavera de la Reina would ultimately consume more than 600 million litres of water per year. And this in the Tajo river basin, which was already characterised by drought. The current hype around AI, a technology characterised by very intensive energy consumption, threatens to increase this even further.

Drought and climate impact

Various parts of Spain have been suffering from severe drought for years. This year, the regions of Catalonia and Andalucia have been particularly affected. Total water reserves in the country currently stand at 66.3%, and reservoirs for human and agricultural use stand at 56.4%. The European climate service Copernicus predicts a warmer than normal summer season, which could further worsen the situation.

Concern

Local communities and experts are expressing concern about the impact of these data centres. They point to examples from other countries. For example, Dublin banned new data centres due to their high energy consumption and a Google project in Chile was blocked due to environmental concerns. In the Netherlands it turned out that Microsoft ended up using 80 million litres of water instead of the previously announced 20 million litres.

In response to the concerns, Amazon has pledged to return more water to the Aragon community than it uses by 2030. In turn, Microsoft offsets its electricity consumption with 100% renewable energy. Yet transparency about their actual consumption is often lacking. A fact that only increases concerns about their environmental impact.

Also read: Opening a water-guzzling data centre in empty and dry Spain

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