The pandemic has highlighted our reliance on digital connectivity and electricity. Technology has kept us going through the challenges of the lockdown, enabling millions of people confined to their homes to work remotely, shop, and communicate with friends and families. As Ireland enters the first stage of a five-phase plan to lift restrictions, we look at the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for data centres in the post-lockdown reality.
Ireland is Europe’s data centre capital with 54 tech organisations, with Microsoft, Amazon and Google all choosing the country as their headquarters for European operations.
Currently, the combined power capacity of data centres in Ireland reaches 642MW, but with another 41 centres either already under construction or at the planning stages, the total energy consumption could increase by an additional 830MW in the coming years. EirGrid estimates that by 2028, data centres could account for 29% of all energy demand in Ireland. The forecasts are particularly striking, especially when taking into consideration that globally data centres consume only approximately 2% of electricity, a figure expected to rise to 8% by 2030.
With such high energy demand, data centres in Ireland have a critical role to play in supporting decarbonisation of the Irish electricity generation mix by providing flexibility to the grid, enabling integration of renewable generation. Despite high levels of renewable generation, Ireland is not currently on track to meet its carbon reduction goals and faces fines of more than €250m from the EU. EirGrid is determined to pursue its decarbonisation goals and hopes that once the pandemic is over, the public and businesses united in their response to the tragedy of Covid-19, will show greater support for environmentally friendly policies.
“It would be my biggest wish if we could channel this ability to deal with a current crisis into the climate challenge, and get behind the climate mitigation opportunity and imperative that awaits us when we get over the crisis,” said Mark Foley, CEO at EirGrid in his recent interview for Host in Ireland. “We need to decarbonise work, society, life, living. If we could get the nation behind that ambition then we can do extraordinary things in the Irish economy in the next 10 years.”
Full decarbonisation of the economy starts with advanced technological solutions that help eliminate fossil fuels from the energy mix. This can only be achieved once the grid digitalises to the point it can manage increased renewables, decentralised generation, and integrates technologies such as electric vehicles, to unlock further flexibility to balance demand and supply.
“Data centres are perfectly positioned to support the transition to a carbon free economy. Standby generators, UPS, on-site batteries, fans and chillers, can provide significant volumes of energy flexibility to the grid, without any negative impact on operations,” explained Michael Phelan, CEO and co-founder of GridBeyond, the leading provider of intelligent energy technology.
“The pandemic has increased interest in resilience, and the most effective and sustainable ways to strengthen it, improve financial outcomes, and mitigate operational challenges that might come as the result of climate change,” Phelan added.
Aside from the improved environmental credentials, participation in grid balancing services enable organisations to earn additional income and generate cost savings. The grid operators provide financial incentives for businesses that support the network with their energy flexibility. These services become particularly important during times of economic uncertainty, enabling businesses quick access to new, long-term revenue streams without any capital expenditure or impact on operational integrity.
The uninterrupted operations of data centres are essential for all sectors of the economy. Data centres rely on critical power to ensure digital infrastructure uptime, and as such, will require a deeper understanding of the energy markets, their risks, challenges and opportunities.
Despite the resilience measures that grid operators put in place, power outages can and do occasionally happen. Renewable generation tends to be intermittent and as the levels of green energy in the network increase, so does the need for flexibility to balance supply and demand.
Michael Phelan explains further: “Intelligent energy technologies provide a holistic solution to strengthen resilience both of the energy network and individual businesses. By connecting on-site assets to an AI powered energy platform, data centres not only support the grid operators with their flexibility and build their own resilience against grid power failures, but also gain access to a suite of insights and analytics that help them significantly limit risks of operational failures.”
Assets connected to GridBeyond’s network are monitored in real time with smart sensors; any anomalies such as voltage variations are reported to ensure business continuity. The data collected from the site is benchmarked against industry standards, enabling optimisation of energy consumption for each asset to prolong its life-cycle and increase efficiencies.
GridBeyond has more than a decade of experience working with large energy users in the UK, the US and Ireland. With in-depth understanding of assets, GridBeyond helps data centres play their part in decarbonising the economy whilst increasing their operational resilience and improving the bottom line through new revenue streams and savings. All without any capital expenditure or impact on operational integrity.
For more information on how GridBeyond can help data centres enhance their sustainability credentials and take advantage of enhanced energy services, visit GridBeyond’s website.