The Republic of Ireland has avoided setting a moratorium on connecting new data centres to the electricity network, according to a decision from the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU). But each application will be assessed on whether the site is in a constrained part of the electricity network, whether the new data centre can at least cover its demand with onsite dispatchable generation or storage, and whether it can provide flexibility from its onsite supply or by reducing its demand.
CRU said the new connections policy “has removed the need for radical policy changes or the implementation of a moratorium”, and provided clarity for prospective and existing applications. It mitigates the risks to the electricity network from the rising number of data centres, CRU said.
The CRU was concerned that continuing to allow data centres to connect to the network would significantly affect stability and security of the electricity system. In a consultation, the regulator said that if no action were taken, demand would outstrip available supply at the peak and would result in load shedding and consumers facing rolling blackouts. It worked with the industry to develop the new connection measures to avoid a moratorium on new connections.
Meanwhile National Grid Gas noted in its recent Winter Outlook Report that one effect of rising numbers of data centres in Ireland was an increase in gas exports from GB. Exports rose by 0.3 billion cubic metres (bcm) last year to 3.3bcm and they have been consistently rising over the last five years – in 2016 export was 1.6bcm.
National Grid Gas said the growing demand was for electricity generation, naming specifically the power required to serve a number of new data centres.
Irish reports say there are now 53 operational data centres in Ireland, with eight under construction and 26 with planning approval. Their expansion has coincided with closure of peat-fuelled generating stations.
Winter risk to supply
While the regulator has acted to ease security fears as data centres connect in the medium term, concern over the current season remains.
In September CRU warned that EirGrid had identified a serious risk to security of supply arising from outages at two large gas generators (Whitegate and Huntstown). Eirgrid said temporary, emergency generation would be required this winter but installing it was not feasible in the required timeframe, even on a fast-tracked basis. The Irish system has seen a number of System Alerts when the generating margin has required EirGrid to take additional actions to protect security of supply, including system operator trades with its counterpart in GB. The two plants are now set to restart any day, returning approximately 800MW of gas-fired capacity to the system, which will mitigate the security of supply risk, CRU said.