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European datacenters worried they can't get cheap, reliable juice

UK operators are sweating about price, Nordics chill thanks to low ambient temperatures

European datacenter operators are finding it harder to secure reliable, cost-effective power, according to a report by British electricity biz Aggreko has asserted.

The vendor conducted a survey [PDF] of 700 datacenter professionals across seven countries and found that a combination of rising energy prices, supply chain shortages, and rising power consumption, threatened operators' ability to keep their facilities online.

Operators in the Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Germany reported concerns over their ability to meet the energy demands of their facilities over the next five years. French respondents were, however, more optimistic.

UK operators were more concerned with energy pricing than access. And with prices hovering around 33.2 pence per kWh in the UK, we can see why. For reference, that's nearly twice the average cost of electricity in the US.

"Grid shortcomings are common throughout Europe, and they lack a clear or immediate fix", Guido Neijmeijer, European leader of datacenters at Aggreko, wrote in the report. Neijmeijer advocated more use of batteries and hybrid generation, which he said can, over time, "reduce a facility's dependency on the grid while striking a balance between power, sustainability, and efficiency."

Unsurprisingly, according to the survey, datacenter operators across most of Europe said they were looking into ways to improve the efficiency of their facilities as part of the environmental and social governance strategies.

The only exceptions, Aggreko noted, were in the Nordic countries, which already enjoy better access to renewable energy. Sweden, for example, gets most of its power from hydro-electricity, nuclear energy, and increasingly from wind, according to the International Energy Agency.

The report also found that Nordic datacenter operators tended to prioritize taking advantage of ambient weather conditions, which allows them to forgo power-hungry cooling equipment in favor of free environmental cooling to further reduce their energy consumption and by extension greenhouse gas emissions.

Faced with rising energy costs, the survey also showed that several operators — in the UK, Germany, and France in particular — are investigating demand-side response (DSR) schemes.

For those that aren't familiar, DSR incentivizes customers to change their consumption behavior based on signals from the utility. Depending on how it's initiated this can either be an automatic or manual process. For example, during an DSR event, a datacenter might shift a portion of its load to onsite batteries or generators.

And for datacenter operators with sufficiently large power infrastructure, for example, there's also the opportunity to further reduce energy costs by selling power back to the utility.

As we reported in July, Microsoft is doing just that at a datacenter outside Dublin. Working with UPS vendor Eaton, the cloud giant said it would employ novel techniques to use backup power at its datacenters to help balance out any variability in the region's grid.

"DSR are still relatively unused across Europe, presenting a great opportunity for datacenters to begin integrating equipment that can support this process," Greger Ruud, Aggreko's sector development manager for the Nordic region, wrote in the report.

Another opportunity highlighted in the report is upgrades to newer, more efficient power equipment, UPSes, transformers, and switchgears, which can improve power-use effectiveness (PUE). Aggreko also suggested employing greener backup-power systems, including modular battery systems and stage V bio-diesel generators.

The Register notes that Aggreko specializes in this kind of equipment, so it's unsurprising the company's research found it's a good idea.

With that said, numerous datacenters have announced transitions to more efficient or greener forms of backup power, ranging from hydrogen gas fuel-cells, bio-diesel generators, or even planned small nuclear reactors (SMRs) at one Swedish site. ®

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