EirGrid predicts ‘supply challenges’ and growth in demand from data centres

29 Sep 2021

Image: © mario beauregard /Stock.adobe.com

The Irish grid operator predicts that data centres could account for a quarter of the country’s electricity usage by 2030.

EirGrid has published its annual Generation Capacity Statement, in which it predicts “electricity supply challenges” for Ireland in the next nine years, in part due to “growth of demand driven by large energy users and data centres”.

The report, prepared in collaboration with the System Operator for Northern Ireland, identifies a range of factors which mean that “if no action is taken, there is the potential for a shortfall in Ireland over the next five winters”.

One of these is increasing demand for electricity, which the report predicts will grow by between 28pc and 43pc by 2030. This is expected to be driven by a range of factors, including the adoption of electric vehicles and the electrification of heating systems.

EirGrid also says that demand forecasts are “heavily influenced by the expected growth of large energy users, primarily data centres”. In its median forecast, it expects data centres to account for one-quarter of all power consumption by 2030.

This figure is more than the 11pc such facilities currently use, but less than the 70pc predicted by an academic from Maynooth University this week.

As well as demand growth, the report identifies supply-side issues that may affect provision of power in the future too. EirGrid notes that some existing generation capacity is due to be withdrawn in the coming years.

In addition, some new generators due to be delivered in 2022 and 2023 have been delayed due to administrative issues and the pandemic, and other approved projects have been “withdrawn by the developers”.

The report notes that Ireland is committed to getting 70pc of its electricity from renewables by 2030. But EirGrid CEO Mark Foley said that “new, cleaner gas-fired generation plant is required now” to address the supply issues raised in the report, “especially for when wind and solar generation is low”.

Renewables accounted for 43pc of Ireland’s electricity consumption last year, with wind accounting for 38pc alone. The largest source in the country was gas, at just under 50pc.

Between the increase in demand and challenges in ensuring supply, EirGrid predicts that the number of “system alerts”, where “the margin between supply and demand is very limited and may not be enough to cover the sudden loss of a large power plant, or other unexpected event”, will increase in the coming years.

Foley commented: “We expect system alerts to be a feature of the system over the coming winters and this winter is likely to be challenging.”

There have been eight such alerts since January 2020.

Political parties in Ireland have been debating the role data centres should take in the country’s economy in recent weeks, amid a number of warnings about the power supply situation. The Social Democrats have called for a temporary moratorium on new data centre construction.

The Government is expected to reject this motion today (29 September), but will impose emissions limits on data centres and other sectors of the economy.

EirGrid has previously proposed changing how the locations of data centres are chosen.

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Jack Kennedy is a freelance journalist based in Dublin