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UK government holds power shortage talks with data centre operators

Written by Thu 20 Oct 2022

Image of Transmission Tower in the Sunset

Anticipating possible power shortages in the coming months, representatives from the UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have held discussions with data centre owners and operators focusing on operational resilience.

There were two main points to this discussion: how data centres would maintain operations in the face of potential blackouts, and whether or not data centres should be designated as critical infrastructure.

The government’s interest may be generated by the fact that critical government data likely rests in these data centres; or that they are trying to anticipate the effect that service interruptions may have on citizens and businesses that rely on them.

The risk of blackouts is increasing with the approach of winter. National Grid plc, the primary energy provider for the UK, attributed this increased risk to world events in a recent report. “The invasion of Ukraine by Russia and resultant reduction in gas supplies to continental Europe has created unprecedented uncertainty for energy markets.”

“No one can accurately predict what will happen this winter against such a complex and uncertain backdrop.”

In a best-case scenario, there would be a 6.3% margin between demand and supply, meaning that the nation could get through the winter without difficulties. However, in a case where the weather is cold (increasing power usage for heating homes and businesses) and clear (leading to low wind generation) there may be planned – or unplanned – blackouts.

Should it be a particularly cold winter, there is a chance that National Grid plc will initiate ‘load-shedding’, or rolling blackouts. This could result in three-hour power cuts in communities across the UK.

The dependence of businesses, citizens, and the government itself on data centres led to recent discussions about the resilience of facilities in the face of potential blackouts. Most data centres have diesel generators that will kick in automatically in the event of power disruption, maintaining operations for up to 72 hours.

Matthew Evans, markets director for TechUK, noted, “Our members have taken all necessary precautions by filling up their reserves, but we need to see government take necessary measures to ensure a continuous supply in the unlikely event of prolonged blackouts.”

In the course of these discussions, businesses requested that the UK government allow data centres to start up generators before a planned blackout begins, which would improve the switchover from the grid to the generator. As it stands today, government regulations prohibit data centres to roll power over before service is actually interrupted.

For their part, data centre businesses are looking at staggering operations to lower the stress that they place on the grid to help circumvent the need for load-shedding.

Written by Thu 20 Oct 2022


Data Centre government power shortage UK
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