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AWS buys 100+ diesel generators... and that's just for Irish datacenters

Server farm power concerns as winter nears and fears of blackouts grow

Amazon has applied to have 105 diesel generators installed at a new datacenter site in Dublin amid concerns over the impact on electricity networks and the potential for energy shortages across the sector this winter.

The plans for the large number of diesel generators are found in an application for emission licences to Ireland's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to The Times.

It claims the EPA has received a wave of such applications since Ireland's Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) placed restrictions on new datacenter connections to the electricity grid due to worries over the growing portion of the country's electricity supply they are consuming.

Amazon was granted approval in July to begin construction of two new datacenter buildings at the Clonshaugh Business and Technology Park.

Earlier this year, it was reported that the percentage of metered electricity consumed by datacenters in Ireland reached 14 percent during 2021, a greater proportion than that used by all the rural homes in the country.

It was this that led to an attempted ban on new bit barns being built near the Irish capital following reports last year that the country may face blackouts if it did nothing to curb the growth in datacenter power consumption.

The CRU has responded by giving priority to connection applications where the datacenter has the ability to reduce its electricity demand, typically by using its own generators or energy storage capabilities. It is likely that this is behind Amazon's application to have a large number of diesel generators installed at its new site.

However, it serves to highlight the fragility of energy supplies and the growing amount of energy that is consumed by datacenters worldwide, which account for 3 percent of all electricity in the world, according to figures from datacenter operator Digital Realty.

In August, it was reported that there were concerns that datacenters in parts of London were consuming so much energy that there may have to be restrictions on new housing projects as a consequence, although it was later claimed that this overstated the situation.

Last week, we reported that the UK government has held discussions with datacenter operators here about keeping their sites operational during possible power shortages that may come during this winter. While the National Grid believes there will be enough power to meet demand, it also warned that it may be necessary to implement a scheme of rolling three-hour blackouts in a worst-case scenario.

Datacenter sites have backup power generation facilities, typically delivered by diesel-powered generators, but some recent reports said that Europe-wide reserves of diesel are lower this year than in previous years, sparking concerns over the ability to obtain supplies of the fuel easily.

According to energy market business intelligence outfit Argus Media, the UK had 12 percent less diesel stock in July than it did in the same period a year earlier, and the amount is 30 percent down from 2019. This has been a key cause of volatile diesel prices over recent months, it says.

Other European countries are in a similar situation, partly because the high price of gas has made it more expensive for refineries to produce diesel, leading suppliers to draw on reserves instead.

The US only has a 25-day supply of diesel as the cold season looms, which may hit multiple sectors that rely on the fuel.

Gartner senior director analyst Tiny Haynes warned Reg readers recently that datacenter operators need to plan more carefully for outages this year, including ensuring they can be resupplied promptly with diesel for backup power generation.

"Do they have any sort of redundancy in fuel supply, in case their primary supplier can't deliver? Because otherwise it's gonna be a lot of hair being pulled out if they are unable to keep the datacenter up and running," Haynes said. ®

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