The role of open cycle gas turbines in the Irish renewable energy dynamic

Solar power, onshore wind and eventually offshore wind will provide the lion’s share of Ireland’s electricity needs, under government plans. However, to ensure that homes and businesses have access to all the electricity they need when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, some fossil fuel-powered sources of electricity will need to remain connected to the grid. so that they can be put online as needed.

Open-cycle gas turbines have certain advantages over other potential back-up power plants that will be attractive to energy infrastructure developers, and they could help support the thirst for electricity of the thriving center industry. data in Ireland for years to come.

The challenge of balancing the Irish energy mix

Ireland has pledged to achieve ‘net’ emissions in its economy by 2050, and the government has pledged to produce at least 80% of Ireland’s electricity supply from energy renewable by 2030. As part of this transition, some carbon-intensive power plants are being dismantled and decommissioned.

However, Ireland’s drive to change its energy mix is ​​complicated by the growing prevalence of data centers and the increasing demands they place on energy needs as a result of their operations.

Earlier this year, the Utilities Regulatory Commission (CRU) warned that “rolling outages” could occur if measures are not taken to meet the rapidly increasing demand for electricity from data centers. Recently, the government confirmed its intention to relight two traditional power plants to deal with the risk of potential blackouts. Pressure has grown on the Irish government to stop building new data centers in this context. Although he has rejected these calls to date, he has pledged to introduce sectoral emission caps that are likely to have the indirect effect of blocking the development of data centers and could still, according to the experts. reports, go further in the next budget.

If all of the data centers proposed for development were connected to the Irish electricity grid alongside those already in place, it is expected that they would require 3.8 GW of electricity in total to operate. The current peak demand for the entire electricity system in Ireland is 5.5 GW.

To cope with this anticipated increase in electricity demand, the SRB recently proposed that network connection requests from data center operators be prioritized in the future based on a range of factors. These factors could include whether the data centers themselves generate enough on-site power to meet their electricity demand, or can be flexible to reduce their consumption during times of system stress.

Irish Climate Minister Eamon Ryan has publicly stated that fossil fuels will continue to be needed to some extent to meet the country’s energy needs “when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining”, while Professor Andrew Keane of the UCD Energy Institute has warned that energy users will face price hikes unless Ireland takes urgent action to strengthen the grid, improve connections to UK and EU energy grids and better exploit its own offshore wind potential.

Currently, most of the data centers in Ireland are located in the south and east of the country close to the country’s two largest population centers – Dublin and Cork – and the majority of sites operated by major manufacturers and technology companies. . However, we expect that there will be a greater geographic spread of data centers across Ireland as CRU policy unfolds in practice.

We also anticipate that data center developments could be part of much larger power parks, and that these will generally consider on-site power generation.

It is against this backdrop that we expect flexible low carbon base load production to be important to Ireland and open cycle gas turbines to become a popular technology.

Open cycle gas turbines and their role in the Irish electricity market

Open cycle gas turbines are relatively small assets that can take up less space than other technologies and can be more efficient in terms of installation and operation.

Electricity is derived from open cycle gas turbines by spinning the turbines and powering a generator. Turbines run by mixing compressed air and fuel – usually natural gas – at very high temperatures.

Combined cycle gas turbine systems can offer greater efficiency and better environmental benefits. However, in the context of an energy market where some traditional power plants will have to stay in line to increase renewable energy sources, open cycle gas turbines may be a cleaner and / or cheaper technology to operate. to install and operate depending on whether or not they are compared to other types of gas turbines and other fossil fuel power plants.

Another major advantage of open cycle gas turbines is that they can be turned on and off quickly. This means that they can be deployed in the power grid in the short term to cover any supply shortfall resulting from the variability and typical profile of solar and wind power.

Government security of supply and capacity contracts will provide the business case for the investment in open cycle gas turbines.

As Ireland moves forward with plans to dramatically increase the proportion of electricity demand supported by renewable energy sources and simultaneously seeks to balance its energy mix to ensure security of supply – in especially at a time when other promising clean technologies such as hydrogen are still expensive. prohibitive and in their relative beginnings – open cycle gas turbines represent a pragmatic option to provide back-up electricity into the grid and to generate electricity on-site for data center development, new power parks or for others involved in the reallocation of existing production infrastructure in Ireland.

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