Substation routes offshore wind energy to Irish grid and Echelon’s Arklow data centre

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Like it or not, data centres are here to stay and their numbers, and their capacity, are increasing exponentially. The growth is driven by the massive growth in the dataverse – the amount of data created each year, expected to reach 1.75 ZB by 2025 – which in turn is driven by the billion or more people getting online in developing countries, the Internet of Things (IoT) enabling smart cities, connected dwellings and driverless cars and the development of working artificial intelligence solutions. All these things – internet access, smart devices, virtual assistants – are increasingly seen as basic human necessities.

All this data storage and processing capacity is massively power-hungry – in 2018, datacentres were already consuming more than two per cent of the world’s electricity. As a rule of thumb, researchers in the US expect global power consumption to triple in the next five years, with one of the big contributors being the increase in internet-enabled, data creating devices.

The big question, therefore, is how do we square this growth in demand for power with the global imperative to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the increasingly immediate problem of climate change head-on? “The answer, quite clearly, lies in renewable energy sources, efficiency in data centre design, specifically in regard of rack cooling techniques and, ultimately, in innovative new ways of providing power to data processing and storage hardware,” Damien Gaynor, chief marketing officer, Echelon Data Centres, says. “As a starting point, the industry’s minimum benchmark must be to ensure that data centres are powered by 100 per cent renewable energy. This is, of course, already being achieved around the world, but the industry must be relentless in its efforts to make every data centre renewable compliant.

“In addition to the focus on making sure that all energy sourced from a national grid comes from 100 per cent renewable sources, we should be looking at adding renewable sources to our sites – wind, or solar, or biomass – and taking responsibility for generating a proportion of the energy we consume. Where possible, through waste heat recycling, or supplying energy generated on-site to local users, we should aim to provide sites that are more than just consumers of power.”

In a continuation of this sustainability strategy late last year Echelon and green energy developer SSE Renewables announced an agreement to develop a joint 220 kV substation at the Avoca River Business Park, Arklow, Ireland. The new infrastructure will facilitate the development of Ireland’s first large-scale offshore wind farm, off the coast of Co. Wicklow with an export capacity of 520 MW, and Echelon’s DUB20 (Arklow) 100 MW data centre.

The joint initiative marks the first time in Ireland that an offshore wind farm and a data centre have agreed to develop grid infrastructure. The substation development is expected to require an investment of around $60 million to deliver. Upon completion, the proposed offshore wind farm and data centre will both directly connect to the Irish national grid via the new shared substation.

The landmark deal is an innovative step forward for the renewable energy and data centre sectors. Sharing grid infrastructure and locating data centres closer to renewable sources of generation such as offshore wind delivers on a key decarbonisation goal set out in Ireland’s Climate Action Plan to facilitate regionally located data centres and minimise grid reinforcements. It also helps deliver a Climate Action Plan target of installing 1 GW of offshore wind by 2025.

“This is a significant initiative – one which enables Ireland’s first large-scale offshore windfarm, contributing greatly to the country’s targets of delivering 1GW of offshore renewable energy by 2025 and 5GW by 2030,” Niall Molloy, CEO of Echelon Data Centres said. “It is also a model for the future, where data centre facilities are located close to the source of renewable energy, providing a constant demand for the power and working with renewable energy providers to facilitate the development of the necessary infrastructure,” “The initiative represents meaningful progress on the road to cleanly and sustainably powered data centres.”

Barry Kilcline, director of developments at SSE Renewables explained that it was a major innovation for the integration of renewables and data centres into Ireland’s national grid. “Through this landmark agreement we will develop new shared grid infrastructure at Arklow that will facilitate the development of the next phase of the 520 MW Arklow Bank Wind Park, which we are on track to deliver to help meet the Government’s 2025 target of 1GW of offshore wind, and to enable the connection of Echelon’s planned data centre for South Wicklow,” he said.

The 220kV substation would be developed and constructed on behalf of both developers by SSE Renewables. The development of the substation for joint use will be subject to SSE Renewables securing planning permission via a future planning application.

Echelon Data Centres, which is developing a network of large-scale data centre campuses across Europe, is to construct a 45,000 square metre data centre site at the Avoca River Business Park in Arklow, with a capacity of up to 100 MW.

SSE Renewables is actively developing Phase 2 of Arklow Bank Wind Park which will be in a lease area situated six to 13 km off Ireland’s Co. Wicklow coastline, to the east of Arklow. The offshore wind farm has the potential to reduce Ireland’s annual carbon emissions by around one per cent, offsetting over half a million tonnes of harmful CO2.

Echelon’s DUB20 (Arklow) data centre represents an investment of around $600 million. Planning permission is in place for three data centre buildings and ancillaries on a 200-acre site immediately adjacent to the motorway network. Less than 40 minutes from Sandyford and 60 minutes from Dublin Airport. The first phase will deliver up to 100 MW of capacity on a 30-acre sub-site with initial occupation set for mid-2022.

 

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