Data centres in future European energy systems—energy efficiency, integration and policy

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Abstract

End-use efficiency, demand response and coupling of different energy vectors are important aspects of future renewable energy systems. Growth in the number of data centres is leading to an increase in electricity demand and the emergence of a new electricity-intensive industry. Studies on data centres and energy use have so far focused mainly on energy efficiency. This paper contributes with an assessment of the potential for energy system integration of data centres via demand response and waste heat utilization, and with a review of EU policies relevant to this. Waste heat utilization is mainly an option for data centres that are close to district heating systems. Flexible electricity demand can be achieved through temporal and spatial scheduling of data centre operations. This could provide more than 10 GW of demand response in the European electricity system in 2030. Most data centres also have auxiliary power systems employing batteries and stand-by diesel generators, which could potentially be used in power system balancing. These potentials have received little attention so far and have not yet been considered in policies concerning energy or data centres. Policies are needed to capture the potential societal benefits of energy system integration of data centres. In the EU, such policies are in their nascent phase and mainly focused on energy efficiency through the voluntary Code of Conduct and criteria under the EU Ecodesign Directive. Some research and development in the field of energy efficiency and integration is also supported through the EU Horizon 2020 programme. Our analysis shows that there is considerable potential for demand response and energy system integration. This motivates greater efforts in developing future policies, policy coordination, and changes in regulation, taxation and electricity market design.

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Koronen, C., Åhman, M., & Nilsson, L. J. (2020). Data centres in future European energy systems—energy efficiency, integration and policy. Energy Efficiency, 13(1), 129–144. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12053-019-09833-8

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