Tech giants respond negatively to new rules on grid access for data centres

Terms will compel operators to provide their own emergency power

The new terms for grid access have been set in response to increasing constraints on the power network, amid surging demand from data centres. Photograph: iStock

The new terms for grid access have been set in response to increasing constraints on the power network, amid surging demand from data centres. Photograph: iStock

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Tech giants with big Irish operations have responded negatively to rule changes that will compel the operators of new data centres to provide their own emergency power to gain access to the national electricity grid.

The new rules were imposed by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and the response of Cloud Infrastructure Ireland, the main lobby group for data centres, points to disquiet in the sector at measures to curtail its growth.

The group – whose members include Google, Amazon and Microsoft – said it “would have welcomed” greater recognition for renewable power in the new regime.

The new terms for grid access have been set in response to increasing constraints on the power network, amid surging demand from data centres.

Under the new regime EirGrid will have to assess requests for access to the network based on each data centre’s ability to provide “on-site dispatchable generation (and/or storage) equivalent to or greater than their demand” to support security of supply.

Dispatchable power is electricity that can be used on demand and deployed at the request of grid operators. It includes gas-fired generation that can be switched on at any time and excludes wind power, which is available only when the wind blows and is therefore less reliable as a source of emergency electricity.

Cloud Infrastructure Ireland (CII) had opposed being required to provide dispatchable power and said in a submission to the regulator that it preferred renewable power. It had also opposed another of the regulator’s new measures: the requirement on EirGrid to assess the location of new data centres according to whether they would be based in a region where the grid is constrained.

CII director Michael McCarthy said it was committed to working with the regulator, EirGrid and the Government to find solutions “that work for all”.

Renewables market

Mr McCarthy, a former Labour TD, said the group had urged the regulator “to encourage the expansion of renewable energy and develop long-term policy mechanisms to support a stable and clean grid” for Ireland.

“Supporting renewable energy and helping meet climate change targets is a priority for us, and we would have welcomed a greater recognition of the potential for data centres to grow the renewables market and use sustainable energy sources.”

The regulator imposed two other conditions for grid access. EirGrid must take into account the centre’s ability to “provide flexibility in their demand by reducing consumption when requested to do so by the system operator in times of system constraint” by using dispatchable on-site generation and/or storage to support security of supply.

EirGrid must also assess the centre’s ability to provide flexibility in demand “by reducing consumption when requested to do so by the relevant system operator, in times of system constraint, in order to support security of supply”.

Jim Gannon, a commissioner in the regulator’s office, said the new assessment criteria provided “a number of options for data centre operators to bring solutions for all future applications in terms of their own low carbon generation and reducing consumption when that is required”.

There was no comment from IDA Ireland, which had opposed measures introduced by the regulator.

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