Cooling Towers: Not So Cool?

Energy and Environmental Trends Watch

Anyone who has been in a tall building looking down on shorter buildings has seen the usual array of mechanical “boxes” with large spinning fans. Those “cooling towers” sit atop tens of thousands of buildings across the country, from hotels to office buildings, hospitals, university and government buildings, and residential towers. Cooling towers also sit adjacent to many industrial facilities, such as petrochemical plants, where cooling by exhaustion of heat is part of the industrial process. More recently, there is the advent of truly enormous data centers, which are the guts of operations of “public cloud” companies, such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Oracle, IBM, etc. In many cases, these data centers rely on water-based cooling towers, which control temperatures for the large spaces housing computers/servers, and which are often adjacent to thousands of people. It is now estimated that there are as many as two million cooling towers operating in the United States.

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