“First” data centers to reduce consumption in crisis


The operator of the country’s power system has warned that the electricity supply will be tight during the winter.

But Mark Foley, CEO of EirGrid, said that “if an emergency is declared,” data centers “will be a first port of call” to reduce energy consumption.

He told a committee in Oireachtas that these centers would switch to on-site power generators.

“I think they have stepped up to the plate (…) and we can call on them this winter,” he told the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action.

EirGrid has had significant engagement with the industry, Mr. Foley said.

“We are satisfied with the response we got,” he added.

He also predicted that energy demand will increase across the country by at least 28% during this decade. This is due to economic growth, data centers, electrification and home heating, he said.

The CEO of EirGrid added that data centers account for around 30% of total energy demand. Mr Foley said that a figure of 70% that has been mentioned in some quarters “has no basis”.

He said older generators with “reliability issues” will continue to be taken offline for essential repairs over the coming months.

In his opening statement to the committee, he said the Huntstown and Whitegate gas generators “are expected to be back on line in October and November.”

Nevertheless, “[other]the units will be down as needed and the winter will remain tight, ”he said.

“[Our] overall view is positive … assuming no other force majeure type event arises, “said Foley.

However, he warns that “a prolonged period without wind” will lead to more “tightness on our own system”.

This would be “coupled with a reduced ability to appeal to Britain for support,” he said.

But Mr Foley points out that “robust” contingency plans are structured such that “we don’t expect to see an impact at the consumer and / or essential service level.”

New data center proposals

The committee also heard from the energy watchdog.

The Utilities Regulatory Commission (CRU) has warned that demand for data centers is unprecedented in the state’s history.

President Aoife MacEvilly said they would release proposals on the sector this month.

“Our goal is to ensure that data centers are part of the solution to the challenge they present,” she said.

Jim Gannon, also of CRU, told the committee they had received “over 50 responses” while consulting with data center operators on the proposals.

The commission presented a variety of options, he said, adding that a “possible general moratorium is a tool that remains open to regulators.”

And he noted that there is “a mixed outlook” among data center operators, with some “finding it harder to be flexible.”

Mr Gannon also said that 500 MW of electricity that had been secured, “now, will not be delivered.”

He said the commission is working with energy suppliers to ensure the causes of this situation are addressed.

Mr. Foley informed the Committee that EirGrid “[hasn’t] signed a contract of more than 12 months with a data center operator “.

He added that they now impose “a certain degree of obligation on the data center customer to help us.”

And he thinks that the next CRU proposals will make it possible to “find this right balance”.

The proposals would ensure that data centers “have to bring something to the party,” he said.

The measures include locating outside of Dublin, bringing in “a certain degree of distributable generation” and setting up energy storage facilities, Foley added.

Distributable power sources can be called upon by EirGrid when demand is high.

And he called on the ICT sector to “look favorably” on the commission’s proposals.

Contingency plans

Mr Gannon noted that it had been six decades since the wind was as light as it was this year.

Mr Foley stressed that EirGrid’s “robust” contingency plans mean that he does not expect “[consumers]and / or essential services “will be affected.

Aoife MacEvilly drew attention to “the security of natural gas supply” which she said is “of growing national strategic importance”.

Ireland will depend on the UK “for 90% of our gas supplies by 2030,” she told the committee.

If this unique energy source is cut off at a time of high demand, supply cannot be guaranteed, she noted.

The commission therefore advises “an examination of the future role of LNG (Liquid Natural Gas)”.

There is currently strong opposition to an LNG plant that is being proposed for Shannon.

Meanwhile, a leading academic has warned that increased electrification “will require more transmission infrastructure.”

“It means more transmission lines, more pylons, more transformer stations,” DCU Professor Barry McMullin told Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly.

Professor McMullin expressed concern that this is not yet “generally understood” by the public.

Call for a moratorium on energy disconnections

The Social Democrats, meanwhile, called for a moratorium on disconnections for energy customers.

MP Jennifer Whitmore said some families would see increases of € 800 or more over the winter due to the “skyrocket” in prices.

She said they would have to choose between feeding the children, paying the rent or heating their homes.

Ms Whitmore also said the fuel allowance should be expanded.

A moratorium on disconnections was put in place during the pandemic and was in place for 42 weeks.

It was lifted by the Public Services Regulatory Commission (CRU) at the end of May.

People Before Profit called on the government to restrict price increases by using existing legislation to declare an emergency in energy supply and impose a maximum price cap.

He is presenting a private member’s motion on this subject which will be heard at the Dáil tomorrow.

MP Paul Murphy also said he was “very crazy” to go ahead with carbon tax increases at a time when people are facing a massive increase in energy prices.

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