Digital Realty wants to turn Irish datacenters into grid-stabilizing power jugglers

Electricity goes both ways as bit barns in Dublin aim to cut emissions and boost the bank

Datacenter biz Digital Realty is to let facilities in Ireland feed energy back to the electricity grid when needed, helping to smooth out variability in supply, cut CO2 emissions and provide an additional revenue stream.

The global datacenter operator is working with energy management company Enel X on a project to allow its uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems to provide balancing services towards maintaining power grid stability.

This is intended to reduce the dependence on fossil fuel power plants during periods of high demand on Ireland's energy grid, says Digital Realty, and could avoid the release of more than 30,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. It will also provide an extra income for the company, which it somehow neglected to mention.

The colocation outfit has nine bit barns clustered around Dublin, and says the battery banks that make up its UPS systems have undergone rigorous testing and approval to provide backup power to the grid. It is initially integrating 6 MW of its UPS capacity into the program.

Ireland gets 30-40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, according to The Irish Times. One effect of this is that fluctuations are inevitable due to the dynamic nature of wind power generation, Digital Realty points out, and this kind of problem is what UPS systems were designed to tackle, albeit inside the datacenter rather the wider grid.

"Datacenters are designed with efficiency front of mind. However, it's crucial to acknowledge the complexity of integrating renewable energy sources into Ireland's power grid," Digital Realty's managing director for UK and Ireland, Séamus Dunne, said in a statement.

The agreement with Enel X would allow Digital Realty to use its datacenter assets in an innovative way to support more renewables on the grid and reduce carbon emissions, he added.

Ireland's electricity operator, EirGrid, announced this month that it has reduced the minimum number of large fossil fuel generator sources which must operate on Ireland's electricity grid at any time from five to four, in response to the growing availability of renewable power.

Digital Realty isn't the first company to introduce a scheme like this in Ireland. Microsoft announced it was deploying "grid-interactive UPS technology" at its own Dublin bit barn in mid-2022, working with power systems specialist Eaton and Enel X, the latter of which serves as an aggregator to combine commercial power sources into "virtual power plants" on the grid.

Last year, Microsoft declared the project a success and said it would be expanded to other datacenters it operates around the globe.

Digital Realty also has an existing project operating at one of its facilities in Sydney, Australia, implemented with help from Enel X.

Datacenter energy has become a controversial topic recently, with warnings that growth in capacity in response to the burgeoning demand for AI processing could see bit barns account for 20-25 percent of US power consumption by 2030, and potentially a third of Ireland's total electricity by 2026.

This could already be causing cloud operators in Ireland such as AWS to ration the compute resources that customers can use, as The Register reported earlier this month.

Programs such as this latest one from Digital Realty could help datacenters form a part of the solution in ensuring energy grid stability. The company is also working to replace diesel with hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) to power backup generators, as another move aimed at cutting CO2 emissions.

Last year Korean company SK Ecoplant announced its intention build a datacenter in Ireland powered entirely by solid oxide fuel cells, in an agreement with local outfit Lumcloon Energy. This might be powered initially by fueling the cells using gas, moving to hydrogen in future. ®

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