Innovative cooling and water efficiency strategies in data centers

Experts discuss best practices and common issues for designing cooling systems in data centers

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 6, 2024
Example of heat recovery system at National Renewable Energy Labs ESIF HPC data center. Courtesy: SmithGroup.

Cooling insights

  • Data center cooling systems are tailored based on client standards and local codes.
  • Designing warm-water and medium-temperature chilled water systems with common heat rejection and free cooling capabilities can enhance the efficiency of data center HVAC operations.


  • Amanda Carter, PE, Electrical Discipline Lead, Stantec, Chicago
  • Brian A. Rener, PE, LEED AP, Mission Critical Leader, Smith Group, Chicago
  • William Kosik, PE, CEM, LEED AP, Lead Senior Mechanical Engineer, kW Mission Critical Engineering, Chicago
Courtesy: WTWH Media

Courtesy: WTWH Media

What unique cooling systems have you specified into such projects? Describe a difficult climate in which you designed an HVAC system for a data center.

William Kosik: The cooling systems are based on our clients’ standards and the location of the project. The decision to use a certain system is also dependent on the local code requirements for energy efficiency and water use. Examples include direct evaporative cooling, air-cooled chillers with adiabatic free-cooling, water-cooled chillers with water-side economizers and adiabatic dry-coolers.

What best practices should be followed to ensure an efficient HVAC system is designed for this kind of building?

Brian A. Rener: Where possible, designing warm-water and medium-temperature chilled water systems as a common system with separate distribution for HPC and airside cooling can result in a more efficient system operation.  Medium-temperature chilled water can be injected into the warm-water system at key points for trim cooling with an HPC ramp up.  Heat rejection can be common to both system and provide free cooling when available.

What are some of the challenges or issues when designing for water use in such facilities?

William Kosik: For several years, data center facilities have gotten by without much scrutiny on water use by the local building officials. This has been the case even with through drought and water shortages. Fortunately, there are many owners, engineers, consultants and equipment manufacturers who recognized this problem many years ago and have been designing and implementing data center facilities and cooling equipment that optimize the use of electricity and water responsive to the specific conditions of the project location.