A bank account uses more water than making a litre of petrol

Last night I went to an event at NESTA, the peak body fostering innovation in the UK. One of my key takeaways was a fresh realisation of the value of water. It’s suggested, in fact, that in the next few decades, fresh water will become one of the most valuable commodities on Earth. Wars will be fought over fresh water

Did you know it takes seven litres of water to make one litre of beer? Ten litres of water to create a litre of petrol. 1000 litres of water to make a television set. 8000 to make a pair of jeans. And 40,000 or more to make a car. You can read the interesting facts in detail here.

A great deal of attention has been focussed on the copious use of power of any industry that uses data centres. In our organisation, we’re swiftly moving the thinking model we use to build our systems from one where power is effectively unlimited, to one where we recognise that power is a primary constraint that we must manage across our application portfolio. No matter how advanced your green technology, there is an upper limit beyond which it simply isn’t possible to shove any more compute into a certain amount of space.

But until last night, it didn’t dawn on me that, just like power, water cannot be considered an unlimited resource. If it takes 40k litres of water to make a car, how much must be used up building us just one of the many mainframe computers we run?

It takes, according to this site, 45.4 litres of water to make a computer chip. I did some rough, back of the envelope calculations. Let us assume that a typical bank data centre has 400,000 chips. That’s assuming that the data centre is one of a reasonable scale and has about 20,000 CPUs across all the possible platforms deployed, and there are about 20 other chips supporting each CPU. That’s probably a low order number, but it means that the compute in the data centre took 18.16 million litres of water to create. I’m not even factoring in the data storage, the cooling, and the construction costs (in litres) of the actual facility.

If you’re a typical bank, you’ll be cycling your platforms every couple of years. Let’s say everything is refreshed every three, for our purposes here. That doubles the water consumption across a three year time frame for a huge 36.32 million litres of water, just for the chips.

If you are a bank with that sized data centre, you’ll probably have some millions of customers – let’s say 10 million. And at that point, we’re talking about 36 litres of water every three years, or 12 litres of water per year per customer to have a banking relationship.

That’s a very low order number, given the assumptions above. Clearly, the real number of litres will be much, much higher.

In other words, you can make a litre of petrol with less water than it takes to run a bank account for a year. Going back to the initial point of this post, if water becomes one of the most valuable commodities on earth, using that much just to run a banking relationship is going to become uneconomic. It also goes to show that green agendas are, as predicted by practically everyone, just good business sense.

6 Responses to“A bank account uses more water than making a litre of petrol”

  1. April 14, 2008 at 9:12 am #

    Hi James. Glad that you enjoyed the evening and thanks for participating. It was a shame in a way that one of the green topics weren’t selected but I think there is scope to explore those elsewhere and non more so than the water as commodity issue.
    Your ‘back of envelope calculation’ is very interesting (must have been an A4 envelope) and I wonder how long it really takes to reach wider public consiousness. I recall being interviewed on a train journey a few years ago about Palm Oil. BTW – if I were doing some face to face research now I can’t think of a better captive market than a non rush hour train as passengers can’t say that they are busy if all you are doing is staring out of the window. Anyway, back to Palm Oil – I’d never heard of it back then but it’s now rapifly rising up the agenda as a non-sustainable ingredient in many different foods. It can’t be that long before water becomes a similar business issue.

  2. david simoes-brown
    April 14, 2008 at 1:43 pm #

    Hi James, interesting stuff. Who’d have thought we’d be measuring bank accounts in litres? Also I wonder whether anyone is factoring in water in the hot debate raging about bio-fuels at the moment. I echo Roland’s thanks for attending the NESTA event (http://www.nesta.org.uk/programmes/connect/partnerships/open_alchemy.aspx) and hope this forward-thinking group can achieve something special. By the way the car figure is even worse. It’s 400,000 litres for a family saloon!

  3. April 16, 2008 at 3:54 pm #

    Hi James….great post…I am doing a speech on Exponential Change for a group of Investment and Fund Managers on Friday and I am going to quote your interpretation of the water cost of a single bank account.
    PS: Keep your diary free between 22-26 June next year. Think you should come to speak at our Innovation & Thought Leadership Festival that I’m organising again. (Its been written up as a case study by the CIO executive Board, but not released yet….will send you some info once its done)

  4. April 17, 2008 at 9:39 am #

    David, thanks for the correction. 400k litres of water is an even more amazing stat. Your event was a great eye-opener for me with respect to Green. A big part of our agenda.
    Annalie – will keep those dates clear, and would love to come to your event. Thanks for reading.

  5. May 4, 2008 at 5:45 am #

    Great subject James. I grabbed my trusty envelope and and have come up with an energy cost for a year of mobile banking and purchasing transactions – <1 sec of lighting in an average home with the new low power bulbs.
    The assumption is that the mobile is already owned, on and being used by the consumer anyway.
    Consider the environmental savings of being able to dispense with much of the existing eftpos infrastructure, plastic cards, 'smart chips', endless readers.
    Green banking is a definite possibility.
    The average African country can be 'mobilised' with solar energy alone. It's going to be the future anyway - why wait until 2050? We aren't.

  6. Mike
    April 20, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    So all this water usage is good right? With global warming and all causing the polar ice caps to melt using some extra water will help those people living in coastal areas to not be drowned out. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Proudly powered by WordPress   Premium Style Theme by www.gopiplus.com