Data centre co-operation is key to ensuring 'lights don't go out'

Data centre co-operation is key to ensuring 'lights don't go out'

“I want to acknowledge the support of the data centre community around this crisis... If an event were to occur, and let's be clear we’re talking about the remote possibility of an event, they have all signed up to help us and ensure that there is no situation where the lights go out,” Eirgrid chief executive Mark Foley said.

Data centres have accepted joint responsibility with the national electricity grid to ensure the “lights don’t go out”, according to the chief executive of Eirgrid.

Speaking at a webinar organised by Host in Ireland, an organisation which promotes the data centre industry in Ireland, Mark Foley said there is a “sense of collaboration and joint responsibility” between Eirgrid and the data centre community to build a resilient electricity grid.

Concerns have been expressed about the ability of the electricity grid to support the demands of data centres, as Ireland has faced a host of amber energy alerts this year, after just 13 altogether in the previous decade.

“I want to acknowledge the support of the data centre community around this crisis,” he said. 

If an event were to occur — and, let's be clear, we’re talking about the remote possibility of an event — they have all signed up to help us and ensure that there is no situation where the lights go out.

Mr Foley said businesses such as data centres can continue to grow in Ireland if they propose energy generation as part of their plans, which can be factored into the electricity grid’s overall “backstop” electricity supplies.  

He said that Eirgrid is “absolutely committed” to moving forward with a data centre plan that would include its own backup energy generation.

Environment minister Eamon Ryan with Eirgrid's CEO Mark Foley and chief innovation and planning officer Liam Ryan unveiling the Shaping Our Electricity Future roadmap at Cop26 in Glasgow.
Environment minister Eamon Ryan with Eirgrid's CEO Mark Foley and chief innovation and planning officer Liam Ryan unveiling the Shaping Our Electricity Future roadmap at Cop26 in Glasgow.

“My objective would be as quickly as possible to get an exemplar data centre project with onsite dispatch generation… which proves to the whole system it can be done and it can work,” he said.

The electricity sector achieved 43% renewable generation in 2020, surpassing its 40% EU mandated target. Over 80% of that renewable electricity was produced through wind energy. Ireland's Climate Action Plan has raised the renewable target to 80% by 2030. 

Also speaking at the webinar, Noel Cunniffe, the CEO of Wind Energy Ireland, said that this well within the scope of wind projects in the pipeline.

He said Ireland needs 5GW of offshore renewables and 8GW of onshore renewables by 2030 to hit the 80% target.

“For onshore wind energy we have around 4GW installed today, and 10GW in various stages of development… For offshore wind energy there's over 20GW in various stages of development,” he said.

There'll be attrition through that pipeline over the next 10 years, but we definitely have enough to get us to 2030. 

However, Mr Cunniffe warned that costs are a real concern: “We’ll deliver that 80%, but whether we deliver that cheaply or expensively is really going to be up to policy. One thing that we have not at all sorted out is the cost of renewables in this country. While we are a fantastic source of renewables, we are unfortunately the most expensive country in Europe to develop wind energy and solar energy right now,” he said.

“We carry a lot of baggage and uncertainty throughout the system, through the planning process, through the grid connection process... and uncertainty unfortunately breeds additional costs. We would really like to see a renewable cost task force being set up by the Government to really look into the price stack for renewables and minimise that cost,” he added.

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