ESB’s Smart Energy Services: Decarbonising Data Centres

By Dr. John Rafferty  –  Energy Asset and Flexibility Specialist, ESB’s Smart Energy Services 

Achieving Ireland’s decarbonisation targets is challenging. The Irish Government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% over the next decade, with targets to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. 

ESB has taken significant steps to decarbonise the energy sector in Ireland in areas such as transmission, distribution and generation sectors. Over the past five years, ESB’s Smart Energy Services have worked with industries to reduce the carbon impact of their energy consumption, so far, investing more than €50 million. 

The drive to a low carbon future  

With the data centre sector growing in Ireland, now is the time for the industry to play its part in Ireland’s drive to a low carbon future and we are currently working with a range of data centre clients to help realise this goal – much has been achieved by operators in this space, but challenges lie ahead. 

Increasing renewable generation capacity is one step. Wind power, for example, has been adopted by some of the largest operators in the Irish market through mechanisms such as cooperate renewable Power Purchase Agreements (PPA). While such programmes can play a significant role, increasing renewable generation is not without its challenges, including the requirement for infrastructure developments and the need to ensure system stability is maintained. 

Deployment of on-site generation, such as Solar PV technologies, can also play a significant role. These options can present a major investment for data centre operators and provide a reliable supply of renewable energy to operations, without impacting the national grid. 

Challenge to opportunity 

Consistency of energy consumption is a defining feature of data centres, with little down periods of energy usage compared to other industries. While this is a challenge, it also presents interesting opportunities. 

Flexibility, achieved through managing how data centres consume electricity from the grid at any time, is the key to maintaining system stability and security of supply while enabling greater capacities of renewable generation. Given their requirement for high availability, data centres possess significant inherent flexibility including storage capacities from backup generation and UPS battery systems.  

In addition, technologies such as stand-alone battery systems can optimise energy utilisation. These solutions not only support increased renewables in Ireland but also unlock potential new revenue streams for data centre operators. 

Another interesting opportunity is the capacity of waste heat produced by the cooling requirements of data halls. Through effective capture and management, this significant heat can be utilised to reduce the requirement for other carbon-intensive heating processes by other industries such as manufacturing and agriculture, or district heating schemes, to produce a significant net carbon saving. 

Role of ESB’s Smart Energy Services  

Through utilising a combination of energy services, large users of energy like data centres, can operate more sustainably while significantly reducing their carbon impact. These services can range from assessing the efficiency of lighting infrastructure to utilising battery storage options through to developing an energy centre for distributing waste heat from the data centre to power other infrastructure. 

ESB’s Smart Energy Services harnesses its industry knowledge, engineering expertise and disruptive technology to help large energy users significantly reduce energy costs, carbon emissions and energy consumption by providing turnkey, CAPEX-funded, low carbon energy centre solutions.   

We partner with organisations to adapt to the most demanding energy environments by designing tailored Energy-as-a-Service solutions; optimising energy consumption and operating onsite energy technologies to help customers unlock the true value of their energy.  

We are excited to work with data centre clients to help support Ireland in achieving its decarbonisation goals.  

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