New directions for grid operators on data centre applications

24 Nov 2021

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CRU’s new directions clarify how grid operators can assess new data centre applications to reduce pressure on the grid.

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) in Ireland has issued new directions on connection applications from data centres for electricity grid operators EirGrid and ESB Networks amid predictions of an impending power shortage.

The CRU directions seek to ensure that new connection applications from a growing number of data centres do not put pressure on Ireland’s grid in a way that sees demand outstrip supply and cause blackouts.

In September, EirGrid said it predicts “electricity supply challenges” in the next nine years, in part due to the growth of large energy users such as data centres. It forecasts an increase of up to 43pc in demand for electricity by 2030, and says data centres could account for one-quarter of all power consumption by the end of the decade.

CRU’s directions for new data centre connection applications include assessing them based on their location – something that is already on EirGrid’s radar – as well as ability to generate their own power and ability to power the grid in times of peak demand.

New data centres will have to be built in areas where electricity supply is not short. Data centres will also have to be able to generate power on site or have electricity storage facilities equal to or more than their demand, as well as show flexibility in their demand by reducing consumption when requested by the operator.

“We believe the decision announced today provides a very clear direction for the data centre industry and importantly accommodates growth in the sector while maintaining a responsible and balanced approach to security of supply,” said CRU commissioner Jim Gannon.

‘Grid citizenship’

The directions came from one of three mitigation options available to CRU to provide clarity for grid operators on data centres. The other two options were not taking any action – which would lead to shortages – and pausing new construction.

CRU said that its new directions represent “the most equitable solution” because they provide opportunities to data centres in a manner that “respects overall system integrity” and secures a stable supply of electricity for consumers.

Niall Molloy, CEO of Dublin-based Echelon Data Centres, said that the new CRU directions signal the end of a period of uncertainty for the sector and introduce a sense of “grid citizenship” for data centres.

“Locating away from areas of high demand and constrained supply, being able to power our own infrastructure with energy generated on site, providing power to the grid at times of peak demand and/or when renewable sources are offline – it’s about being part of the Irish energy environment and being a good grid citizen,” he said.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic