Billy Durie, Global Sector Head for Data Centres at Aggreko
With demand for data in Europe reaching an all-time high, data centres are now consuming more energy than ever before, placing a growing strain on the electrical grids of a number of European cities. In countries such as Ireland, this has led to the introduction of restrictions on data centre connections, leaving operators without a guaranteed energy supply. Billy Durie, Global Sector Head for Data Centres at Aggreko, discusses the importance of incorporating decentralised energy solutions on-site, both to secure current supply and future-proof against legislative changes.
Of all the factors brought into sharper focus by the pandemic, our dependency on data is perhaps one of the most apparent. As workers across Europe shifted to remote working en masse and online streaming soared, access to data has been recognised as more of a necessity than ever. However, behind this demand is a very real physical consequence.
Our ever-increasing appetite for data has led to heightened energy consumption from data centres, placing the electrical grids of a number of European cities under strain. While it would be unfair to suggest that lockdown is the sole cause of this strain, it has undoubtedly added fuel to the fire of an already-growing industry challenge. Moreover, with a recent CBRE report highlighting a 17% increase in colocation supply in the FLAP (Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris) markets in 2021 compared to the year before, it is clear that this trend is showing no sign of slowing down.
What Does This Mean?
With grid capacity limited, data centre operators may find that their previously-steadfast grid connection is increasingly unable to fulfil the requirements of peak time, in turn presenting a heightened risk of blackouts. With data centres expected to aim for 99.999% uptime – equivalent to just over five minutes outage a year – any operator can attest that even a minor outage can prove extremely damaging. Moreover, with data centres’ surging energy demands straining the entire grid, many nations are looking to introduce legislation that limits supply to these facilities to ease the load.
For example, in Ireland, national supplier EirGrid has forecasted that data centres could account for as much as 25% of the country’s electrical demand by 2030. As such, section 4.2.4 of the organisation’s 2019 Connection Offer Process and Policy has specified that EirGrid will only provide “Firm Capacity” if the data centre will make available dispatchable on-site generation. Otherwise, the supply will be “Flexible Demand”, meaning that supply will be reduced when the grid is constrained.
The situation in Ireland reached a boiling point at the end of 2021, with EirGrid stating that they would not be accepting any new applications for data centre connections in Dublin until 2028, effectively acting as a de-facto moratorium on data centre construction. Outside of the capital, connections will only be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Here, Ireland may serve as a warning as to what legislative changes may follow in wider Europe, particularly the strained FLAP markets. Amsterdam has already imposed a temporary moratorium on data centre construction from 2019, with the province of Flevoland following in 2021, suggesting this may be the beginning of a growing trend.
With the effects of a blackout and possible legislative changes considered, it is clear that a grid connection simply cannot be considered as reliable as it once was. For this reason, it may be sensible to consider integrating decentralised energy solutions on-site to bridge the energy gap.
To protect against blackouts, data centre operators may find incorporating gensets in spinning reserves to be of benefit. Here, should the grid be unable to meet the power demands of the facility, frequency-responsive generators will begin to top up supply in as little as 10 seconds, allowing an outage to be avoided. Crucially, this approach also demonstrates the site’s ability to make available dispatchable on-site generation, enabling access to firm capacity as per EirGrid’s Connection Offer Process and Policy.
Integrating contingency solutions not only allows operators to secure current supply but future-proof against any legislative shifts that may occur. With the FLAP market predicted to continue growing at record rates, it is a matter of when, not if, legislation surrounding data centre connections in these countries begins to tighten.
For this reason, there has never been a greater need to incorporate decentralised energy solutions on site. Here, data centre operators may find enlisting a specialist partner to be of benefit. A modular approach to design allows load demand to be flexed, with megawatts added or subtracted as needed. Crucially, this not only equips facility managers with the equipment they need to effectively secure their supply, but the expertise of an entire network of industry professionals, which will no doubt prove an invaluable asset in the turbulent years to come.