Ireland warned it could face 'rolling blackouts' if it doesn't address data centres' demand for electricity

Utilities watchdog launches consultation that may affect green island's mega bit barns


Ireland could be facing frequent power cuts following a warning from the country's Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) that data centres are having a "major impact on the Irish electricity system."

Publishing a consultation paper earlier this week [PDF], the regulator said that the integrity of Ireland's power grid was under threat as data centres continue to hoover up vast amounts of 'leccy.

In a stark warning, the CRU said: "When this is also considered in the context of wider system security… it is clear that measures must be implemented in order to encourage data centres to address some of these risks."

Global players including Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft all have significant footprints in Ireland, making it one of Europe's data centre powerhouses.

Indeed, it is noted that these operations – along with other high-growth areas in the IT industry – have provided a significant fillip to Ireland's economy in recent years.

The task now, it seems, is to ensure that overall demand for power is matched by sufficient supply so that no one misses out.

Under the proposals, the operators of Ireland’s electricity grid, EirGrid and ESBN, would have to prioritise grid connection applications from data centres in accordance with a series of factors. One of these considers whether data centres generate enough energy onsite themselves to support their demand for electricity, or can be flexible in how much they consume at times of "system constraint". Energy law expert Garrett Monaghan opined on law firm Pinsent Masons's site that the rules would also be likely "influence the power supply strategies developers and operators of data centres put in place."

The proposed rules would apply Ireland-wide, which could result in greater geographical spread of data centres in the country, according to Monaghan.

According to figures from EirGrid, the state-owned electric power transmission operator in Ireland, data centres are slurping increasing amounts of power. Over the last four years, EirGrid has seen demand increase by around 600GWh from data centres alone – equivalent to the addition of 140,000 households to the power system each year.

"This contrasts starkly to demand growth in other sectors outside of the data centre industry, which has been largely flat in recent years," said the CRU.

Crunching some numbers, it claims that if things carry on as they are, data centres could account for a quarter of electricity demand by 2030; its top-end estimate would see that demand surge to a third.

It went on: "The worst outcome… could result in load shedding and ultimately rolling blackouts. This is not acceptable to the CRU and measures need to be introduced to manage the supply-demand balance."

The closing date for submission to the consultation is 7 July 2021. ®

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