How is the sector preparing for the prospect of planned winter power cuts?
- How would you describe the level of confidence among operators about the winter ahead, in terms of keeping disruption to their clients (due to energy supply issues) to a minimum?
As long as the diesel fuel supply is maintained then data centres should have any issues maintaining the load. After that, it is a time issue. Power cuts of a few hours should not cause significant problems. However, if power cuts last for days within a single week and there is a scramble for fuel, then things could become problematic.
- How confident would you say operators are they feeling in the government’s assurances that blackout are unlikely to occur?
The word of the moment is ‘stability’ however these are uncertain times. With the National Grid already issuing statements about possible planned blackouts in January and February, even if they are saying this is ‘an unlikely base case’, then hope for the best and plan for the worst is how data centre firms are approaching this winter. Companies are speaking with their suppliers. It is the responsible thing to do.
- What contingency plans do operators have in place to protect their clients from the impact of blackouts?
Most data centres will have between 24 - 48 hours of fuel to run at full load.
- If blackouts become a reality and operators are asked to disconnect from the grid or pass their surplus power back to the grid, do you think this is a concept or idea that operators would be willing to get on board with? If not/so, why?
It may need the entire DC community to get together to support the grid. We could be facing a situation where it could be the grid operator who tells data centres to disconnect from the grid and run their generators for several hours at times of energy rationing [constrained capacity]. Demand response (DR) is the adjustment in demand relative to grid generating capacity, designed to address supply and demand imbalance. There are several types.
Load Curtailment or load shedding is the simplest and most obvious type of DR participation, where the data centre disconnects from the grid and runs on its generators in island mode.
Load Shifting is when power consumption is reduced during a peak demand period by shifting energy use to another time. However, IT workload power use is typically not something that can be controlled by wholesale and colocation data centre operators.
Short Term Operating Reserve (STOR) and Load Reduction occurs when the utility requests additional power when the actual demand is higher than forecast, or in the event of unforeseen generation unavailability.
Frequency response is often the most lucrative DR program. It could be used by utilities to counter unplanned power generation and load imbalance that would otherwise cause a frequency stability problem
The main issue currently is that most data centre operators do not participate in demand response. However, this is likely to change, and rolling backouts may be the catalyst for widespread DR adoption.
Generally, data centres are not configured to export energy back to the grid. This also will have to change.
- Do you anticipate any pushback at all from providers if told to shutdown during blackout periods, given the important role they (and their clients) play in keeping our digital economy ticking over?
It depends how bad things get. Data centres are part of the national critical infrastructure must remain operational. Inevitably, there will be an increased rate of data centre failures if utility blackouts occur. The ramifications will vary depending on who’s affected, and the duration and frequency of the utility blackouts.