Sustainability-in-Tech : Data-Centres Using One-Third Of Ireland’s Electricity By 2026

A report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that almost one-third of electricity demand in Ireland is expected to come from data-centres by 2026.

Doubling Of Electricity Demand 

The IEA’s ‘Electricity 2024 – Analysis and forecast to 2026’ highlights how having one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the EU (12.5 per cent) is a key reason why Ireland now has 82 data-centres. However, the fact that data-centres require enormous amounts of energy has meant that, even back in 2022, electricity demand from data-centres in Ireland represented a massive 17 per cent of the country’s total electricity consumption.

The expansion of the data-centre sector, driven by factors like AI, cryptocurrencies, demand for more compute capacity and their associated elevated electricity demand has led to the IEA’s forecast that the electricity demand in Ireland from data-centres will double to 32 per cent of the country’s total electricity demand by next year!

Challenges 

As may be expected with a doubling of demand, the report warns that the reliability and stability of Ireland’s electricity system will be challenged.

Safeguarding Measures 

The IEA reports that in order to safeguard Ireland’s electricity system, in 2021 the country’s Commission for Regulation of Utilities had published requirements applicable to new and ongoing data-centre grid connection applications. These included looking at whether a data-centre is within a constrained region of the electricity system, and the ability of the data-centre to bring onsite dispatchable generation and/or storage equivalent, at least, to their demand. The requirements also included looking at the ability of the data-centre to provide flexibility in their demand by reducing it when requested by a system operator.

This highlights the need by local governments in Ireland to only grant connections to operators who can make efficient usage of the grid and incorporate renewable energy sources with a view that incorporates decarbonisation targets.

Global 

Looking at the global data-centre sector, there are more than 8000 data-centres, with about one-third of these in the US, 16 per cent in Europe and around 10 per cent in China. The 1,240 datacentres in Europe (mostly in Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Dublin) consume 4 per cent of the EU’s total electricity demand. The IEA forecasts that with increasing demand, electricity consumption in the data-centre sector in the EU will reach almost 150 TWh by 2026.

What Can Be Done To Moderate Data-Centre Electricity Demand? 

Measures that could be taken to moderate the IEA’s projected surge in the amount of energy data-centres consume could include:

– Introducing more energy-efficient data-centre cooling mechanisms, e.g. direct-to-chip water cooling systems and liquid cooling systems.

– Data-centres sourcing their power from renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydro. For example, the IEA report highlights a global trend toward clean electricity sources, with renewables set to cover a substantial part of the additional electricity demand.

– Data-Centres participating in demand response programs to adjust their power consumption during peak periods, helping to balance the grid.

– Integrating data-centres more closely with the energy grid to optimise power distribution and reduce waste.

– Governments encouraging or mandating the use of renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies in data-centres through incentives, subsidies, or regulations that set minimum energy efficiency standards.

– Investment in energy storage and grid infrastructure to ensure reliability and the integration of intermittent renewable energy sources.

– Ongoing research into more energy-efficient computing technologies, like advanced chip designs or quantum computing, can reduce the energy footprint of data-centres over time.

Needed, And Part Of The Solution 

It should be remembered, however, that data-centre services are now critical to the daily functioning of the business, consumer, and economic landscape because they add value, and they are enabling the growth of new technologies like AI. It could therefore be argued that more data-centres and the value and compute power they bring could deliver key solutions to solve the energy and climate challenges. In doing so, they could also find ways to generate more energy than they consume, thereby reducing their demand on the grid, and becoming part of the solution to their own problems.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Factors like the growth of cloud computing, which has helped businesses, the demand for compute capacity, the growth of AI and cryptocurrency, are all contributors to a rapidly growing demand for more electricity and threats to current supply systems (such as Ireland’s).

That said, as shown above, safeguarding and mitigating measures can (and must) be taken. Also, multiple data-centres being sited in countries like Ireland can be a boost to their economy and their standing within the tech-world. Although an electricity demand surge in the growing data-centre sector is inevitable now, technologies such as AI (which increases energy demand from data-centres) may help find intelligent ways to mitigate the extra demand issues it creates and it would be difficult to argue that the world doesn’t need more data-centres to drive forward vital technologies for business and economies.

Nevertheless, there is a need for sustainable action. For example, using cleaner energy and governments working together with industry, combining their technologies and innovations could be the way forward to supporting the energy, economic, and technological outlook.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Green BT Street Cabinets To Become EV Charging Points

In line with the government’s aim to increase the number of electric vehicle (EV) charging points from 50,000 to 300,000 by 2030, the BT Group has announced that it will be repurposing its old, green street cabinets to EV charging points.

60,000 New EV Charging Points 

The move, as part of a pilot scheme beginning in Scotland “in the coming weeks” will see BT’s end-of-life green street cabinets being repurposed to add 60,000 new chargers nationwide.

Green Boxes 

BT’s green boxes, a familiar sight on many streets, have traditionally been used to house cabling for phone lines and broadband but BT says the cabinets are slowly becoming obsolete as fibre-optic broadband is rolled out across the country. The company says that when the boxes reach the end of their life the old broadband equipment can be recycled, and EV points housed there instead.

Easy To Repurpose 

The BT Group says green boxes can be converted simply by using a small device to supply renewable energy to an on-street charging point, without the need to create a new power connection. The technology can actually be deployed in cabinets which are either in use or due for retirement.

Huge Step 

Tom Guy, Managing Director at BT Group said: “Our new charging solution is a huge step in bringing EV charging kerbside and exploring how we can address key barriers customers are currently facing.” 

Other Ideas 

An insufficient number of charging stations and whether charging points are available at home (or at work) have long been seen as major challenges to the growth of EV ownership in the UK (along with other factors like the price of EVs).

Some of the many suggestions for other potential kerbside solutions include:

– Lamp posts, especially in residential areas where traditional charging stations might be impractical, and they already have an electrical connection, which can be modified to include charging points.

– Parking meters. This would save space plus make use of the existing power supply and payment systems.

– Utility poles (similar to lamp posts), which have an existing power supply and are widely distributed, making them a viable option for EV charging.

– Street furniture such as benches, bus shelters, or other street furniture with integrated solar panels which could be equipped with charging capabilities.

– Retired/classic telephone boxes (only available now in some areas) can (and have been) repurposed as EV charging points, combining cultural heritage with modern technology.

– Bollards could be equipped with charging technology.

– Public toilets, which have been getting scarcer due to closures from council cuts, already have electricity for lighting and heating, and could be adapted to include EV charging points.

– Solar-powered recycling bins with built-in Wi-Fi and charging capabilities are one suggestion of an innovative way to combine waste-management and EV charging.

– Pop-up, temporary charging hubs / mobile charging stations, in areas with high demand, using existing power sources or portable generators.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

The innovative repurposing of BT’s green street cabinets essentially kills two birds with one stone, breathing new life into old infrastructure while tackling the UK’s lack of EV charging points. It’s one step in the right direction towards sustainable technology and environmental responsibility and it sounds as though it has the potential to make a major contribution (60,000) to the UK’s target of having 300,000 EV charging points by 2030. However, bear in mind that this is still only a pilot scheme.

It also seems like quite a practical option for a broad segment of the population. For organisations operating in the EV sphere, this expansion could also open new avenues for growth and innovation, as the increased infrastructure will likely stimulate demand for electric vehicles.

Environmentally, the repurposing of existing structures for EV charging aligns with green initiatives and carbon reduction goals and utilising existing assets, such as BT’s green boxes, is a way to reduce the environmental impact of constructing the necessary new EV charging stations in the UK. It also highlights how sustainability can be achieved through intelligent innovation, rather than just new construction.

Exploring the other potential kerbside solutions, like integrating charging capabilities into lamp posts, parking meters, and even public toilets, underscores the potential for creative solutions to the EV charging challenge. A versatile approach like this could well be the key to meeting the challenge of insufficient charging points in a faster, more affordable way at scale.

However, it’s still important to acknowledge that there are other remaining challenges within the EV market, such as the high initial cost of EVs, the need for widespread adoption of renewable energy sources to truly realise the environmental benefits of EVs, and the technical challenges associated with rapidly scaling up EV charging infrastructure. Addressing these issues requires a concerted effort from both the private and public sectors, with continued innovation and investment in sustainable technologies being paramount.

That said repurposing BT’s green street cabinets, alongside other innovative kerbside solutions, could offer a blueprint for how we can meet our environmental targets while fostering the growth of the EV market in the UK.

Sustainability-in-Tech : ‘Zero-Bills’ New-Build Properties

A new partnership between Octopus energy and sustainable housebuilder Verto aims to develop new homes across two south-west sites that will have no energy bills because all their energy and heating will come from with solar, battery and heat pumps.

Ground-Breaking ‘Zero Bills’ Proposition

Octopus says the 70 new homes built across two sites in Cornwall and Exeter are part of its “ground-breaking ‘Zero Bills’ proposition to all housing developers, enabling more new homeowners to make energy bills a thing of the past”.

How? 

The ‘Zero Bills’ homes will be made achievable by having them fully kitted out with green energy technology including solar panels, home batteries and heat pumps. At the back end, Octopus’ proprietary technology platform, Kraken, will connect to the clean energy devices and optimise their energy usage to deliver a zero bill.

Octopus says this system will mean the new homes will have no energy bills for at least five years, guaranteed.

600 Other Homes Now Accredited & 1200 Submitted For Assessment 

A previous successful ‘Zero Bills’ pilot with ilke Homes in Essex has meant that Octopus Energy has accredited almost 600 homes (affordable, shared-ownership, private, and rented) through contracts with other developers. Also, 80 more developers have started their accreditation process with Octopus and more than 1200 homes have been submitted for assessment.

Make Energy Bills And Home Emissions A Thing Of The Past 

Michael Cottrell, Zero Bills Homes Director at Octopus Energy, said of the new developments: “We’re on a mission to make ‘Zero Bills’ the new standard for homes. By partnering with developers like Verto, we’re scaling this efficient green technology to homes everywhere while driving down costs for consumers.”  Mr Cottrell also said that, “Together with forward-thinking developers, we can make energy bills and home emissions a thing of the past.” 

UK’s First Zero Bills Development 

Tom Carr, Co-Founder at Verto said of the ‘Zero Bills’ partnership: “We’re thrilled to be partnering with Octopus to launch the UK’s first fully Zero Bills developments. Verto has been delivering its Zero Carbon Smart Home™ product for over a decade: combined with Zero Bills, it represents a sea-change in sustainable housing. But this is just the beginning – we have several other exciting projects in the pipeline with Octopus, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of this movement.” 

Heat Pumps Questions 

Although the Octopus / Verto ‘Zero Bills’ proposition sounds very promising, many questions have been raised about heat pumps in the media recently, particularly for current homeowners thinking of replacing their gas boiler with one. Criticisms have included the prohibitive cost of air and ground source heat pumps, a suggestion that they may be slower at heating a home than a conventional boiler or electric heater, and that some homes and flats may not be compatible with them, i.e. they might not work when fitted. Other criticisms are that they may not cut bills by much and may not be particularly effective in well-insulated homes.

That said, the Octopus Verto ‘Zero Bills’ partnership homes are new builds with the entire system (solar panels, home batteries and heat pumps) already set up, integrated and designed-in using both the expertise of the energy company (Octopus) and the sustainable housebuilder (Vetro) so this should be an effective system.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Britain’s homes currently account for 13 per cent of the country’s carbon emissions and the government wants to phase out one of the main culprits, gas boilers, and have them replaced with heat pumps.

With high energy prices and a cost-of-living crisis, the solar industry has grown in the UK with more households fitting them to get the cash savings and green benefits. With this as the backdrop, the ability to build new homes with all the low carbon technology already fitted must help (in this case through a partnership) and the prospect of zero bills homes (a first) for at least five years will no doubt be appealing in itself to new build homebuyers, not to mention the feel-good green benefits. At least with the kit already fitted as part of tailored and tested system it should work well, thereby avoiding some of the pitfalls that trying to retrofit low carbon tech like heat pumps to older homes could uncover.

It’s promising (from a green perspective) that this ‘Zero Bills’ scheme is under way and that many other developers have started their accreditation process, and these schemes may also provide profitable opportunities to the developers and to suppliers of low-carbon tech for homes, thereby helping green industries in the UK to flourish. If all new developments were built with the low-carbon, sustainable tech already installed, it could certainly help cut carbon emissions and bode well for the future but the big challenge for the government is, of course, how to get existing housing into shape in terms of cutting emissions, e.g., replacing boilers with (quite expensive) heat pumps, solar panels, insulation and more.