The energy vampires sucking Britain’s grid dry –

The energy vampires sucking Britain’s grid dry

Powering down energy needs

Powering the servers is only part of the data center electrical equation. Intensive calculations required for artificial intelligence (AI) or enterprise IT work generate heat.

Cooling fans need to be installed to take that heat away, and with such large numbers of servers in such a small space, data centers need large and powerful industrial air conditioning systems to prevent a literal meltdown from occurring. About 40pc of a typical data center’s power consumption is used on running the air conditioning.

With those figures in mind, it is easy to appreciate how data centers such as data center operator Virtus’ London-2 facility in Hayes, Hillingdon, needs to draw up to 12.2 megawatts (MW) from the National Grid.

Slough, on the border of Hounslow and Hillingdon, is home to half a dozen such public data centres, as well as a number of single-user sites operated by big tech companies. Nearby Heathrow Airport has at least two public data centers and a significant number of private ones nearby, serving airlines and the travel industry. British Airways has two data centers near Heathrow, powering the airline’s operations and providing backups in case of failures.

Moves are afoot to reduce the power requirements of data centers.

Craig Melson, industry body TechUK’s associate director for sustainability, said industry was working on initiatives such as the Open Compute Project, a Facebook-led scheme to redesign servers so they use less energy.

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has promised a partial solution by next year, saying energy regulator Ofgem “has decided to change the connection charging framework, from April 2023, which would see connection costs fall for housing developers requiring [electricity] network reinforcement to accommodate their connections.”

Ultimately, the answer lies with electricity generation and distribution capacity, combined with political pragmatism that lets smaller new housing developments leapfrog data center build and fit-out cycles.

While data centers may be vital to modern business and technology-reliant lifestyles, their vast electrical demands add yet another hurdle to solving Britain’s housing crisis.


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