Regulator puts the brakes on Ireland's $2.3bn data centre market

23 November 2021 | Melanie Mingas

Cover

The utilities regulator in Ireland has issued new rules on data centre grid connections, stating that if it takes no action there could be "rolling blackouts".

Informed by recommendations put forward by EirGrid, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) published its decision on data centre connection policy on 23 November, stating how connection applications will now include assessment criteria encompassing location and the ability to contribute to security of supply.

The new rules, which will apply to unsigned contracts for new grid connections, will see applications assessed for location, on-site generation capacity, flexibility in demand, and ability to reduce consumption on demand.

Specifically, the CRU will assess:

  • The location of the data centre applicant with respect to whether they are within a constrained or unconstrained region of the electricity system;
  • The ability of the data centre applicant to bring onsite dispatchable generation (and/or storage) equivalent to or greater than their demand, in order to support security of supply;
  • The ability of the data centre applicant to provide flexibility in their demand by reducing consumption when requested to do so by the system operator in times of system constraint through the use of dispatchable on-site generation (and/or storage) in order to support security of supply;
  • The ability of the data centre applicant to provide flexibility in their demand by reducing consumption when requested to do so by the relevant system operator, in times of system constraint, in order to support security of supply.

Commenting on the programme, Commissioner Jim Gannon said: “We thank all stakeholders and industry for their consultation responses, and believe the decision announced today provides a very clear direction for the data centre industry and importantly accommodates growth in the sector while maintaining a responsible and balanced approach to security of supply.

"The assessment criteria provides a number of options for data centre operators to bring solutions for all future applications in terms of their own low carbon generation and reducing consumption when that is required.”

Mordor Intelligence valued Ireland's national market at $2.27 billion in 2020, while figures published by Research And Markets in July stated that Ireland's data centre market would witness a CAGR of 5.47%, 2021-2026.

As Capacity reported at the end of H1, Ireland offers around 900MW of capacity – with another eight projects under construction, designed to offer a further 255MW.

While this latest decision isn't about emissions – Ireland has an 80% by 2030 target for renewables in the grid – according to Host in Ireland/Bitpower figures, the data centre industry was responsible for 1.85% of electricity-related carbon emissions in the country during 2020. This is expected to reach 2.2% by 2025.

However, CRU did reference decarbonisation, adding it is "ambitious about meeting Ireland’s policy goals and working with industry to ensure that we decarbonise our electricity system in a safe and secure way, and to the benefit of all".

The decision

Tuesday's statement from the CRU read: "The unique scale and nature of electricity demand … poses a significant challenge to Ireland’s electricity network and security of supply, if left unaddressed. This decision provides a balanced response that presents the data centre industry with an opportunity to grow, while addressing this inherent challenge."

The regulator said its final decision balances the need for connection opportunities, while securing supply for all consumers. There were two further scenarios on the table, which it chose not to pursue – no action, and a moratorium on data centre connections.

The CRU said that taking no action would "likely result in a situation where demand would outstrip available supply at the peak and would result in load shedding and consumers facing rolling blackouts".

The moratorium option would have stopped the processing of all data centre connection applications and modifications "for a certain number of years, until this demand can be safely and securely facilitated by the network".

 

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