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Ireland: An unsustainable strain?

Image: Adobe Stock / Connect world

With Covid-19 only serving to catalyse the ever-snowballing demand for data centres, you’d think this booming sector would be jumping for joy. And that is the case for much of the industry, unless you’re in Ireland.

Data centres on the Emerald Isle are booming a little too much, in that they are now putting a potentially unsustainable strain on the nation’s electricity grid. Ireland’s Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has warned that said strain could cause rolling blackouts if they don’t get the situation sorted.

The CRU understandably finds the current threat to Ireland’s grid unacceptable, and the Commission is urging measures to be put in place to manage the supply demand balance. Basically, the CRU is telling data centre operators to sort it out, or else.

Things have gotten so out of hand EirGrid has had to issue a warning, highlighting the monumental challenge electricity consumers’ face over the coming years. The worst outcome being potential load shedding and aforementioned blackouts.

EirGird has told the CRU that the demand load required by data centres, “is having a major impact on the Irish electricity system currently and into the future.” You don’t say?

And this isn’t new information either, Ireland has had issues with data centres and its electricity grid as far back as 2017, where these power-hungry facilities were already causing Dublin’s infrastructure to feel the strain. But with sustainability the data centre buzzword of the moment (and no doubt long into the future) this isn’t a great look for Ireland, is it?

But what can they actually do about it? The CRU has suggested three options. Firstly, and probably the least useful, is ‘do nothing and wait for blackouts’ – the fact someone got paid to come up with that idea hurts me.

Secondly, they’ve considered putting a moratorium on data centre connections; or thirdly, allow EirGrid to essentially be able to put a choke hold on data centre energy consumption.

Both ideas seem rather similar, but with regards to the second option of a moratorium, the CRU doesn’t consider this measure to be “appropriate” at this time, as ‘there are mechanisms that data centres can employ which – in the CRUs view – can contribute to their overall flexibility.’

The third option, which would involve EirGrid imposing ‘connection measures’, would allow the company to prioritise connection applications based on various categories that would help protect the energy supply. Basically, EirGrid has the power to request data centre operators to cool it with their power consumption and give the poor grid a break.

“This option should allow the data centre industry to continue to connect in a manner which respects the overall system integrity, while balancing the needs of the consumer to have a secure and stable supply of electricity,” the CRU said.

But unfortunately, until Dublin upgrades its transmission equipment, generators may be needed to cope with demand and bridge the gap in the short term. And with Eirgrid predicting data centres will account for 15% of Ireland’s total energy demand by 2026, up from less than 2% in 2015, I just hope the luck of the Irish is on their side.

This editorial originally appeared in the Data Centre Review Newsletter June 18, 2021. To ensure you receive these editorials direct to your inbox, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

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