Sunday 22 September 2019

Microsoft targets Irish wind power as it seals first data centre deal

The aim is to provide a more predictable supply of power from wind farms to the power grid. Stock image
The aim is to provide a more predictable supply of power from wind farms to the power grid. Stock image
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Technology giant Microsoft is on the hunt for further wind-power deals in Ireland after striking its first-ever renewable energy-purchase agreement outside the US.

The company has agreed to buy all the power generated by a 37-megawatt wind farm in Co Kerry for the next 15 years under a power-purchase agreement with GE, which now owns the facility.

The Tullahennel wind farm also incorporates ground-breaking battery technology designed to capture and store generated power and later release it to the electricity grid.

The aim is to provide a more predictable supply of power from wind farms to the power grid. GE pushed for the technology to be incorporated in the wind farm because it wanted to establish a European showcase project for the battery system before a wider commercial launch.

Microsoft said the power deal here will support growing demand for its cloud services from Ireland. The company has also signed a deal with Dublin-based energy trading company ElectroRoute - owned by Japan's Mitsubishi - to provide the US firm with services.

Microsoft's goal is to ensure that 50pc of its global data centre power requirements are sourced from renewable energy by 2018. It's aiming for 60pc "early in the next decade".

Microsoft's director of energy strategy, Brian Janous, told the Irish Independent that the company is still edging towards the 50pc target for 2018.

He declined to say what the total power requirement for Microsoft's data centres is in Ireland. However, it's already likely to be comparable to that of a small city. One large data centre can consume as much electricity as a large regional town such as Drogheda.

Microsoft has four operational data centres in west Dublin, at Grange Castle. Last year, it secured planning permission to build four more on the site that will probably cost in the region of €900m to build.

Mr Janous said the power-purchase agreement in Ireland had taken some time to finalise, and that the preference would probably be to sign two similar deals in the future with large wind farms.

"It would save us a whole lot of time and effort," he said.

Critics of data centres and their huge power consumption have argued that because all renewable power generated by sites such as wind farms goes straight to the national electricity grid, there's no way that companies can guarantee their power consumption is derived from renewables.

"It's a good point, and the reality is we don't control the flow of electrons across the grid," Mr Janous said.

"What we can do is ensure we're making investments that are changing the overall nature of the grid and the power that's being generated. By making these types of commitments we are displacing the needs for fossil fuel resources."

He added: "Over time, if more and more companies make these types of commitments, you are going to accelerate that transition to widespread decarbonisation."

Irish Independent

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