back to article Ireland warned it could face 'rolling blackouts' if it doesn't address data centres' demand for electricity

Ireland could be facing frequent power cuts following a warning from the country's Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) that data centres are having a "major impact on the Irish electricity system." Publishing a consultation paper earlier this week [PDF], the regulator said that the integrity of Ireland's power grid …

  1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    Lucky Ireland

    With all the taxes rolling in from Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft they'll have no trouble funding some new, green power generation. Unless............

    1. jpo234

      Re: Lucky Ireland

      I don't think taxes have anything to do with this. Wind farms are generally financed through private investment.

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: Lucky Ireland

        Wind farms are good when the wind is blowing, which isn't all the time, so they don't replace other generation sources, they just mean you don't have to turn them on as often.

        1. John Sager

          Re: Lucky Ireland

          they just mean you don't have to turn them on as often

          Which trashes the business case for the backup power stations. If they only generate electricity for part of the time, they only get a fraction of the revenue. The business case for installing renewables should include costs associated with the backup plans, but it doesn't as that would show up "green energy" for the racket that it is

          1. Persona Silver badge

            Re: Lucky Ireland

            The UK has 10,961 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of over 24.1 gigawatts. Yet last month they averaged 3.83GW and 5.89GW for the year to date. We were generating with coal most mornings and some early evenings too because the weather was cold and the wind so poor. The UK public is overwhelmingly in favor of wind power and almost totally ignorant of the fact that it's output can drop to very low levels for extended periods, and frequently has spells where the power its generating is close to insignificant e.g. at one point last week it dropped to 275MW i.e. 1.14% of its nameplate capacity.

            1. IGotOut Silver badge

              Re: Lucky Ireland

              Not sure where you got your information from, but coal is hardly used except in winter. Gas is the main back stop supply.

              As I post this coal is 0%.

              https://gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

              1. Falmari Silver badge

                Re: Lucky Ireland

                @IGotOut yes gas is the main backstop. The UK has only 3 active coal fuelled power stations with a capacity around 4.5 gigawatts.

              2. Persona Silver badge

                Re: Lucky Ireland

                Oh yes gas is our main source for electricity generation. Coal only gets used when gas is not enough. Look at to gridwatch.co.uk. It uses the same underlying data source but I find the presentation clearer, though templar is the site to go to to download the data.

                This month coal usage is indeed zero, because its warm and demand is low, but look at last month. We were burning coal lots of times because it was cold and the wind was poor. The pattern was often morning and evening when the demand was still high and the solar power was low too at the edges of daylight. If you download from templar you will see the last coal use was on 28th May @20:40

                It's also worth comparing the month and year charts. The energy intermittency gets somewhat hidden by squishing the horizontal scale.

                Also note from the yearly charts that Solar power is really good in the UK summer, but really bad in the winter when the sun is low in the sky, the days are short and unfortunately demand for power is highest.

              3. Data Mangler

                Re: Lucky Ireland

                Hmm. 15th Jun, lunchtime, warm and sunny. Nuclear going full belt. But what's this? 360MW of coal-fired generation. Who'd have though it.

          2. Snowy
            Flame

            Re: Lucky Ireland

            The other one being how most of them end up in land fill when they get old.

            1. Janne Smith

              Re: Lucky Ireland

              They don't end up in landfill - even the steel and aluminium in the larger components are worth too much in scrap value for that. The actual energy generating parts are easily recycled or reconditioned. The big problem, as pointed out by others, is that they're not a dependable source of power without some massive advancement in power storage tech.

              1. Snowy
                Coat

                Re: Lucky Ireland

                Sorry I was not clear while most of the wind turbine are recycled the blades are not. Currently almost all of the blades go to landfill as it is seen as a affordable solution.

                There is on going work use the blades in creating "greener cement, they used about 100 blades

                https://www.utilitydive.com/news/ge-announces-first-us-wind-turbine-blade-recycling-program-with-veolia/591869/

                The vast majority are still going to land fill . https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-02-05/wind-turbine-blades-can-t-be-recycled-so-they-re-piling-up-in-landfills

                A better solution would be to replace the thermoset resin used in the blades with thermoplastic resin. Then you just just melt the resin and make new blades out of the old ones.https://earth911.com/eco-tech/are-recyclable-wind-turbine-blades-on-the-horizon/

                I am all for greener energy but I do not want to replace one problem with another one later on.

                Do we Need Nuclear Energy to Stop Climate Change? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhAemz1v7dQ

                1. deadlockvictim Silver badge

                  Re: Lucky Ireland

                  That thought had also come to mind. It is time to re-visit the Carnsore Point plan.

              2. Potemkine! Silver badge

                Re: Lucky Ireland

                The actual energy generating parts are easily recycled or reconditioned.

                But what about the huge concrete pads?

                I'm all in favour of windmills, but they are not the miracle solution, but may be part of it. They also create problems of their own..

          3. Adrian 4 Silver badge

            Re: Lucky Ireland

            It only trashes the business case if you consider them alone. If you consider the business case of backup stations + windpower, you have an increased investment but lower average operating costs.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. deadlockvictim Silver badge

          Re: Lucky Ireland

          This is Ireland. The wind *is* blowing all of the time.

        4. DoctorPaul

          Re: Lucky Ireland

          Two words - "tidal power", utterly predictable to within a minute for any location around our coast (see "tide tables"). Also completely hidden from view, unlike the wind turbines that now blight most of the sea view that I know that I am lucky to have - really miss that unbroken view of the horizon that I used to find so relaxing.

          Then there's the storage issue - seems to me that the "lake at the top of a mountain" system which stores it as potential energy is a much "greener" solution than massive battery farms - wonder how the costs compare?

    2. b0llchit Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Lucky Ireland

      And, don't forget, the rolling blackouts will be limited to the private homes and domestic corporations who all pay an energy premium for attracting those foreign data centers. The data centers have, of course, negotiated priority and will be running 24/7/365 regardless.

      If this is the truth then I have failed miserably at writing sarcasm. Well, sorry then. The lights will go out automatically with the coat. It is a blackout coat ;-)

      1. Crypto Monad

        Re: Lucky Ireland

        I was going to say the same: if power is short, why not load shed the data centres? They have diesel generator backup, after all.

      2. Da Weezil

        Re: Lucky Ireland

        And is of course on of the drivers behind the push to smart meters that will eventually see “time of use” tariffs heavily weighted to drive the poorer users off of the load at peak times.

        The “lower” tariffs offered now to households with smart meters installed won’t survive past the stage that they finally force them on everyone and achieve the goal of ripping us off for lighting heating and cooking food at normal times.

    3. nematoad Silver badge

      Re: Lucky Ireland

      Well it's not like the Irish government is all that keen on taxing these big IT corporations, is it? After all look at how they helped Apple dodge that €13bn tax bill imposed by the EU,

      You can't build infrastructure without having the resources to do so. So this little problem is entirely down to the tax strategy of the Irish government.

      I loved the place and the people when I was lucky enough to live there but someone has to see the error of their low tax ways, but as far as I can see no-one is prepared to stick their neck out on this.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Lucky Ireland

        But without the tax arrangements and 'accomodating' regulatory bodies nobody would have their HQ in Ireland.

        All Ireland needs to do is work out some legal arrangement where the HQ, tax and data protection remain in a brass plaque at a post office on Craggy Island while the actual servers are in a bit barn in Germany with decent connectivity and power.

        1. Malcolm Weir

          Re: What's the problem?

          I don't think this is true: US companies like Ireland for a couple of reasons aside from the usual tax/workforce/cost issues: first, there is no language barrier, and second it's an hour closer (timezone-wise) than mainland Europe.

          (There's also a third, which is customs pre-clearance; don't underestimate the value of having parts of Dublin -- and Shannon -- airports effectively inside the USA...).

        2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

          Re: Lucky Ireland

          Germany? Last place you'd want to place a heavy power user with reliability constraints. They have a lot of renewables so have very high power prices. Plus the other consequence: they are even more reliant on the interconnectors to less fauxgreen-silly countries than even the UK.

    4. Mark 65

      Re: Lucky Ireland

      Data centres are typically a nice flat constant load. That doesn't mesh well with the intermittent nature of renewables unless you also build firming capacity at the same time.

    5. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Lucky Ireland

      @Headley_Grange

      "no trouble funding some new, green power generation"

      Why waste money on green? Just go with something that works. If that is green then fine but why must the most important part be 'green' when what is needed is power.

  2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Bitcoin mining

    It seems that bitcoin mining consumes more electrical power than Argentina:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-56012952

    "Bitcoin uses more electricity annually than the whole of Argentina, analysis by Cambridge University suggests.

    "Mining" for the cryptocurrency is power-hungry, involving heavy computer calculations to verify transactions.

    Cambridge researchers say it consumes around 121.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year - and is unlikely to fall unless the value of the currency slumps."

    An issue is generating all the power to feed these new technologies when we are supposed to be trying to save the ecosphere from global warming and pollution.

  3. Brian Miller

    So much for Moore's Law

    Yeah, as if processor efficiency makes up for inefficient use of the CPU. New Irish regulations: No script languages allowed, no AI, no Bitcoin, etc.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: So much for Moore's Law

      Surely then the problem then is basing your data centers in a land known for the eloquence of its native people ? If the data centers were in say Yorkshire you would need much less power and bandwidth.

  4. Rich 10

    Looks like a good time to build power generating facilities, that would be the best investment.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      @Rich 10

      One would have thought so.

      I assume they are selling the power to the data centres, have they never heard of reinvestment and market analysis?

      Ah! Silly me, all that new cash is absorbed by running costs so the taxpayer will have to chip in a bit more.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        You get the planning permission to build the data center in 3 months, construction takes 6 months and it's ready in time for the ribbon cutting on all those new jobs just before the next election. The data center shuts 3 years later when the equipment is obsolete and somebody else offers a better tax deal.

        Planning permission for the power station takes 10 years, it takes 5 years to build and 15 years to pay back the construction costs - even if the market for its power hadn't closed a decade earlier.

        1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

          > Planning permission for the power station takes 10 years, it takes 5 years to build and 15 years to pay back the construction costs - even if the market for its power hadn't closed a decade earlier.

          There's another "gotcha" down the line too.

          You've built a bunch of power-stations to provide extra power for those D/Cs (25% of your load).

          The companies behind the DCs start making noise about taxes being too high (despite IE's already bargain-basement rates). Do you

          - Let them leave and swallow the cost of now having that surplus generation capacity that you're never going to need

          - Give them a tax-break to keep them here, effectively delaying ROI for the power station subsidies?

          I guess, though, Ireland might have a third option - we're also fucking up our own power strategy in the UK, so they could do like the French and sell us power

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Ireland already sells the UK power via the Eirgrid East–West Interconnector as well as running the grid for Northern Ireland and linking to Britain from there via the Moyle Interconnector.

  5. Richard Scratcher
    Windows

    To be sure, it's a grand paper from the CRU et al, et al, et al.

  6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Clearly...

    ...the people using the power should be paying for the power they use. And the people supplying the power should be investing those profits in suitable levels of generation based on current and future demand. Anyone know where the profits are?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Clearly...

      You have just described what capitalists like to label as socialism. The profits get taken by the already wealthy share holders or owners. Also absorbed into the people at the tops wages and bonuses. These people donate to government parties to ensure regulation isn't introduced to reduce profits and have the system running smoothly in the future and ultimately the tax payer picks up the bill.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Clearly...

        The tax breaks to pay for the data center are big enough, do you know how much the tax breaks to build a power station would be ?

        There isn't a magic money tree to pay for the private companies stuff AND the infrastructure to run it.

  7. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Scheduling

    Data centers don't have a good way to throttle their operations as the demand is external. With data privacy laws, they can't shift peak hour operations to a center where it's oh dark thirty and power demand is low.

    There could be a requirement that DC's have solar panels fitted, but that's only slight fix since it can be extremely variable as with any "renewable" power source. Solar panels AND battery storage might become popular if tariffs are variable as well and can be expensive during peak hours.

  8. Slx

    It’s not so much of a tax issue as it is an inability to physically ramp up infrastructure fast enough to meet demand.

    There are huge wind power projects in the pipeline but, it’s still an isolated grid in a small country with a population of 4.9 million (or 6.8 million if you include the all island aspect of the grid).

    The distribution networks and grid are public utilities, but the generation capacity is provided purely commercially. So any extra power supply has to come from commercial providers in an open market, not the state or public money. The publicly owned ESB still owns a lot of generation capacity, but it operates as a commercial entity, just with public shareholding and there are other purely commercial generators.

    The scale of the data centres has a limit and interconnection possibilities are limited by distance. There’s a UK - Irish connector, but the UK system is similarly quite tight for capacity and there’s a french interconnection due on stream in a couple of years.

    There’ll have to be a limit on what can be added to the demand side or it will utterly sink the Irish grid and also fail to achieve green energy targets.

    We’ve also seen the most inefficient (from a CO2 output and economic point of view) power plants removed from the grid here. So that’s also bringing supply tighter.

    Ireland also operates a carbon tax regime, so carbon intensive power is significantly more expensive.

    Some of the data centre operators are also directly financing windfarm development, on and off shore, which has a big positive impact, so does the increased demand for green energy as it’s driving up commercial investment in off shore wind which has the upside of driving down overall Irish CO2 emissions.

    You also can’t just site data centres anywhere, as the population isn’t uniformly spread, so the grid infrastructure reflects that and there is MASSIVE opposition to new overhead lines in Ireland, so that will probably limit data centres to Dublin, Cork, Shannon Estuary etc.

    We saw that happened when Apple tried to develop a large data centre in rural county Galway, it was mired in years of planning objections and they eventually gave up entirely.

    So it’s not really just a case of tax / finances or lack of resources. There’s a cost/benefit analysis. A carbon footprint analysis and it’s constrained by Ireland’s isolated grid.

    There are limits to what you can do in any grid, but an isolated one like here has a lot of constraints.

    The regulator can also simply lodge planning objections to new projects or just refuse connection. If the supply isn’t there, it isn’t there. They’re not going to connect loads that can’t be reasonably supplied.

  9. Ken G
    Boffin

    Time to reconsider nuclear

    Some of the latest reactor designs show promise. Zero carbon, inherently failsafe.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Time to reconsider nuclear

      Nuclear power doesn’t always have the best reputation in Ireland, it’d be a hard Sellafield…

      1. Dave Pickles

        Re: Time to reconsider nuclear

        Just rename the place back to Windscale.

      2. Ken G
        Facepalm

        Re: Time to reconsider nuclear

        I see what you did there.

        I agree, there's little or no chance of it getting a political go ahead, with the Green party being opposed on religous grounds but the problem is reputation not fact. Personally I'd be happy with three Thorium-Salt reactors replacing all generators, wind and wave farms on the island. The Dutch are doing good work on the design at NRG.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Time to reconsider nuclear

      One huge problem with Nuclear is that to follow all the current international regulations it generally takes 20 years from the time that the OK is given to power being generated. The alternative is to remove most of the safety requirements to speed up deployment, and what kind of sane person would cut corners with critical infrastructure ?

      The big advantage of wave/solar/wind is that they have much lower safety requirements, they can be in place with little more than standard planning permission. The big disadvantage, other than hydro power and tidal energy generation, is that their power output is unpredictable.

      And no I'm not a nuclear is bad, green energy good type of person, both have advantages and major disadvantages. Pretty much any source of an energy differential has some downside, and typically lots of upsides.

      1. Ken G

        Re: Time to reconsider nuclear

        "The big advantage of wave/solar/wind is that they have much lower safety requirements"

        Ironically the number of fatal accidents installing and servicing wind generators is hugely higher than any deaths caused so far by nuclear accidents.

    3. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Time to reconsider nuclear

      Ireland has quite a lot of coastline, making wavepower and offshore windpower an option. They're also subject to fading but less so than onshore windpower.

  10. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    it'll not get better

    When everyone has to charge electric cars as well.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: it'll not get better

      And when all the gas boilers ans gas cookers have been replaced with electrical solutions.

  11. Stanislav Bonita
    Facepalm

    Duh

    "Let's have tiny morally-questionable tax rates so all these great companies put power-hungry facilities here!"

    "Oh, no, they've used all our power! Who could have forseen that?"

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Turf

    To be sure, to be sure

  13. ShadowSystems

    Use politicians for power generation...

    Strap a string-on-a-stick to their foreheads & dangle a large denomination currency from the string just out of reach, then put them on a treadmill hooked up to a generator. That's Part 1.

    Build a wind farm just outside their offices so that all their bluster keeps the turbines spinning energeticly. That's Part 2.

    If you then build a methane collection facility to capture all the bovine excrement produced in said halls of power, that should do wonders to supply power to the masses. That's Part 3.

    Why does it take the insane blind guy to see such obvious solutions? Sheesh! =-)p ((Sarcasm icon for the irony deficient))

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