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Energy vampires! Are data centres really to blame for housing delays in West London and Slough?

image credit: Kao Data
Wayne Mitchell's picture
Director, Dallington Energy Ltd

Wayne Mitchell has 25 years of energy sector experience, spending the last 14 years with E.ON, leading teams through exceptionally volatile energy market conditions. Most recently Wayne was...

  • Member since 2023
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  • Jan 23, 2023
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Back in July 2022 the Greater London Authority (GLA) wrote to the electricity distribution and transmission network operators Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET) and National Grid Electricity System Operator (NGESO) regarding the issue of insufficient electricity network capacity and delays to connection applications in west London. 

SSEN is the distribution network operator across west London including Ealing, Hillingdon, Hounslow and Slough, and it is to SSEN’s network that any new data centre or residential development in the region will need to connect. The GLA document, West London Electrical Capacity Constraints, was also sent to 86 developers with an accompanying questionnaire about their developments and their progress in the context of the capacity constraints.

The GLA had been made aware by house builders of significant delays, sometimes of eight years or more, to secure the electricity network capacity required for new developments. In their document, West London Electrical Capacity Constraints, the GLA cited a rapid influx of applications for connection from data centre developers in west London as being part of the issue. 

The GLA described data centres as using “large quantities of electricity, the equivalent of towns or small cities.” That’s an unhelpful start. It’s of course true that data centres rely upon steady, secure electricity supply at volume and a good-sized data centre can use around 50GWh of electricity annually. Compare that to a local authority near me, Stevenage, an industrial and commercial town of 87,000 people, which as a whole consumes 350GWh pa, that’s seven times the use of a large data centre. The same comparison could be made of any large scale industrial or commercial facility. An out of town hypermarket can use around 5GWh pa, and a brewery can use around 20GWh pa. Managing our data and enabling our technology is just as essential as food and beer right? 

The media pile on!

On the back of the GLA communication the media picked up the story and the FT eagerly reported “West London faces new homes ban as electricity grid hits capacity” suggesting that new developments would be banned until 2035. Let’s be clear, there is no ban on new housing developments in west London but that didn’t stop the criticism continuing, including the Telegraph referring to data centres as “energy vampires”. The GLA later confirmed that their document didn’t imply a ban on future housing and techUK followed up by saying, “The operators we represent welcome this clarification which dispels the adversarial framing in favour of one of cross-industry collaboration.

As those in the industry will know, Slough and west London are the second largest data centre market on the planet by size, at around 800MW, second only to Ashburn, Virginia at around 1,700MW, with the Ashburn usage set to increase to beyond 2,000MW before too long. Both locations are ideally placed to access the fibre optic networks that cross the Atlantic and are in close proximity to their clients who demand high speed digital services. They are also key locations for the world’s hyperscale customers with self-created availability zones within these regions that drive enormous supply chains around them. So, in such an important region for the UK technology sector we shouldn’t be seeing potential shortages of electricity network capacity. It isn’t an understatement to say that if we don’t create the network capacity to continue to welcome data centres to the region there is a very real risk that the sector stagnates in west London and data centres find a new region - or even country - in which to invest. 

Maybe an indication of this potential shift came at the end of last year when a proposal was published for the creation of what could be the largest data centre campus in Europe, a 600MW facility on a 500 acre site, not in west London, but in Havering in east London. It’s early days but if it does go ahead it will create nearly 10,000 jobs and represents an inward investment of over £5bn, larger than the inward investment in the Thames Tideway Tunnel, The Shard, Wembley Stadium, and the Northern Line Extension. The only bigger recent inward investment was the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. Importantly for local authorities, the investment will represent a multi-million pound uplift in business rate receipts and west London should be competing for that, if only it had the electrical capacity.

For the rest of the article go to the Kao Data blog at;

 

Discussions
Julian Jackson's picture
Julian Jackson on Jan 27, 2023

Thanks for your article. There are several issues at play here. Constraints on grid capacity, which should have upgrades to serve the growing need for electric power in West London, but many important players (e.g. the UK government) think only short term.

Britain will need more data centres to serve all sorts of ventures, from AI, metaverse, and increased EVs on the roads. If West London is not suitable, where is?

Finally, I do think there is a case for data centres using microgrids, utilising waste heat, and other methods to make themselves more efficient in their energy consumption.

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Jan 27, 2023

Thanks for the post, Wayne. Lot's of good information here. I imagine the the UK's cost of living crisis is going to produce lot's of convenient scape goats, especially when it comes to energy. 

For those curious about economic situation in UK right now, here's an article that came out in the times on the issue a couple days ago. 

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jan 27, 2023

Welcome to the community, and great post - I would have thought the media would have used a Werewolf in London analogy - JK.  It is interesting how the media can impact everything - especially in today's world, where most of us just read the headlines and not the details within. 

 

Love this part of the post

 

The media pile on!

On the back of the GLA communication the media picked up the story and the FT eagerly reported “West London faces new homes ban as electricity grid hits capacity” suggesting that new developments would be banned until 2035. Let’s be clear, there is no ban on new housing developments in west London but that didn’t stop the criticism continuing, including the Telegraph referring to data centres as “energy vampires”. The GLA later confirmed that their document didn’t imply a ban on future housing and techUK followed up by saying, “The operators we represent welcome this clarification which dispels the adversarial framing in favour of one of cross-industry collaboration.

Wayne Mitchell's picture
Thank Wayne for the Post!
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