Microsoft wins approval for ‘unprecedentedly large-scale’ gas power plant in Dublin
Written by Rebecca Uffindell Tue 25 Jul 2023
Microsoft has been granted permission to build an ‘unprecedentedly large-scale’ gas power plant in Dublin. The 170MW plant will provide power for Microsoft’s £777 million (€900 million) data centre campus in Ireland’s capital.
Reports suggest the power plant will cost £86 million (€100 million). The tech giant originally applied for permission to build the Grange Castle plant back in December 2022. The plant is believed to be almost complete.
To reduce reliance on Ireland’s strained national power grid, the Microsoft-owned power plant will run alongside 21 backup diesel generators, reducing its impact on the grid. If the plant fails, Microsoft has been given permission to run up to 150 diesel generators at the site.
Microsoft said the gas plant will run eight hours every day of the year. This is expected to meet the requirements of the utilities flexible demand policy which outlined the current constraints of the national power system. Excess power will not be exported from the gas plant.
“The gas engines and generators will be used solely for the purpose of generating power for the installation,” said Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency.
People Before Profit councilor Madeleine Johansson objected to the proposal last year, citing environmental damage. She also claimed that Microsoft intentionally bypassed stricter criteria by including gas power plants within their proposal.
“While it does not add to the congestion of the national electricity grid, it will contribute to Ireland’s carbon emissions. The plan for a private gas power plant is clearly a way for Microsoft to circumvent the new stricter criteria for data centers in the Dublin Region,” said Johansson.
Microsoft’s plan for the gas power plant includes a 75-megawatt fuel cell installation that generate electricity without combustion.
In 2021, Microsoft received approval for two new data centres at the Grange Castle site in Dublin. Known as DUB14 and DUB15, the facilities span 605,000 sqft (56,246 sqm).
Ireland’s data centre dilemma
Recent statistics found that energy consumption by Irish data centres increased by 31% in 2022, with data centre usage now accounting for 18% of the total energy consumed in Ireland.
Concerns have been raised around the potential for more data centres to destabilise Ireland’s decarbonisation target. In response, the Labour Party called for a halt in these developments.
Last year, Ireland’s EirGrid imposed a de facto moratorium (see Singapore) on data centres in Dublin. The state-owned electric power transmission operator said it would not accept new data centre applications and will not connect new facilities to the grid in Dublin until 2028.
Ireland’s ministers have taken a different stance. Climate Minister Eamon Ryan said at a National Economic Dialogue that he would not call a stop to any additional data centres.
“The data centres are a really important, beneficial sector for our country. We have a huge advantage of having them here in terms of the potential industries that are based here that come with it,” said Ryan.
However, in a letter written in July 2022, Minister Ryan said that ‘islanded data centre developments’ that are not connected to the grid and powered mainly by on-site fossil fuels would not be in line with national policy.
Enterprise Minister Simon Coveney added that there is ‘no technology-based economic growth without data centres’.
“The challenge for us isn’t to reduce the number of data centers in Ireland. The challenge is to find a way of powering them with sustainable abundant power,” said Coveney.
In July 2022 the Government published a Statement on the Role of Data Centres in Ireland’s Enterprise Strategy. They aimed to prioritise data centre developments that align with economic growth, efficient energy usage, and renewable energy sources.
These principles will guide decisions across various state departments and agencies to support the country’s national decarbonisation objectives and promote a competitive hub for decarbonised digital services.
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Written by Rebecca Uffindell Tue 25 Jul 2023
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