The issue with renewables – wind and solar – is that there are times when the wind doesn’t blow, the sun doesn’t shine and energy is not being generated. The issue with grid demand is that it has peaks and troughs – peaks in the evening when the nation is watching the soaps and troughs in the early mornings when everyone’s asleep.
Clearly, if renewable energy is being created during the troughs, and there is no grid demand, it cannot be stored and the generator needs to curtail production. If the wind doesn’t blow, or the sun doesn’t shine at the peaks, then there’s no power to sell to the grid, even if the demand is there. Simply put, renewables are not an attractive investment if the return is uncertain.
Data centres are enablers of renewable energy. Their 24/7 demand profile means that there is a customer for wind and solar energy whenever it is being generated and with an always-on demand for power, investment in renewable generation makes business sense.
Clearly, this is as long as the grid infrastructure is in place to transport the power from the point of generation to the point of consumption (the data centre) and that the planning permission framework for renewable generation infrastructure is fit for purpose.
The Irish Commission for the Regulation of Utilities has recommended that priority be given to data centres located near to sources of renewable energy. Echelon’s DUB20 site is located near to SSE Airtricity’s Arklow Bank Windfarm Phase 2 and a deal has already been signed for the construction of infrastructure on Echelon’s site which will enable up to 520MW of wind energy to reach the grid, while at the same time powering the data centre itself.