Tech giants react negatively to new network access rules for data centers

Tech giants with major Irish operations have reacted negatively to rule changes that will force new data center operators to supply their own backup power to access the national grid.

The new rules were imposed by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and the response from Cloud Infrastructure Ireland, the leading data center lobby group, points to industry turmoil over measures to curb growth.

The group — which includes Google, Amazon and Microsoft — said it had “welcomed” greater recognition for renewable energy in the new regime.

The new grid access conditions have been adopted in response to increasing grid restrictions amid rising demand from data centers.

Under the new regime, EirGrid will have to assess network access requests based on each data center’s ability to provide “on-site dispatchable generation (and/or storage) equal to or greater than their demand” to support security of supply .

Dispatchable power is electricity that can be used on demand and deployed at the request of grid operators. It includes gas-fired generation that can be turned on at any time and excludes wind power, which is only available when the wind is blowing and is therefore less reliable as a source of backup power.

Cloud Infrastructure Ireland (CII) opposed the obligation to provide shippable power and said in a submission to the regulator it favored renewable energy. It also opposed another new measure from the regulator: requiring EirGrid to rate the location of new data centers based on whether they would be in a region where network is limited.

CII Director Michael McCarthy said it was determined to work with the regulator, EirGrid and the government to find solutions “that work for everyone”.

Renewable Market

Mr McCarthy, a former Labor TD, said the group had urged the regulator “to encourage the expansion of renewable energy and develop long-term policy mechanisms to support a stable and clean grid” for Ireland.

“Supporting renewable energy and helping meet climate change goals is a priority for us, and we would like to see more recognition of the potential for data centers to grow the renewable energy market and use renewable energy sources.”

The regulator imposed two other conditions for access to the network. EirGrid must consider the facility’s ability to “provide flexibility in their demand by reducing consumption when requested by the system administrator during times of system constraints” by using shippable on-site generation and/or storage to to support security of supply.

EirGrid should also assess whether the center is able to provide flexibility in demand “by reducing consumption when requested by the relevant system operator, in times of system constraints, to support security of supply”.

Jim Gannon, a commissioner at the regulator, said the new assessment criteria “provide a number of options for data center operators to provide solutions for all future applications in terms of their own low-carbon generation and reducing consumption when needed”.

There was no comment from IDA Ireland, which opposed measures by the regulator.

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