Data centres ready back-up generators in case of blackouts

The world’s two biggest data centre operators are stockpiling generator fuel as the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens winter power blackouts across Europe.

Equinix, the global market leader with a market capitalisation of $64bn, and its $38bn rival Digital Realty Trust said they were buying extra shipments of diesel to provide back-up power to ensure continuous operation at their European sites.

“We’ve been doing contingency planning since the war in Ukraine broke out,” said Gary Aitkenhead, Equinix’s senior vice-president of Europe, Middle East and Africa operations. “We don’t ever expect to have to run for more than a few hours, or at worst case a day, on diesel but we’re prepared to run for up to a week.”

The US groups’ contingency planning comes as companies providing critical energy-intensive infrastructure such as data centres and telecoms networks rush to instigate emergency plans to avoid service interruptions.

BT Group, the UK’s largest telecoms group, said that while it was not seeking to procure additional back-up power for the winter, it was assessing which of its non-critical hardware could be switched off to reduce power consumption in the coming months.

One of the UK’s largest equipment rental groups, which did not want to be named, said it had been stockpiling extra diesel generators in anticipation of a scramble ahead of winter.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has prompted an unprecedented rise in energy prices in Europe, as the EU and UK seek to wean themselves off Russian gas and Moscow chokes supply in retaliation for their support of Kyiv.

President Vladimir Putin last month threatened “catastrophic consequences” for world energy markets if the west ramped up sanctions on Russia, while European politicians and industry figures have warned of the possibility of energy rationing if Moscow further constrains supply.

Data centres around the world use around 200-250 terawatt-hours of electricity per year, according to the International Energy Agency, equating to 1 per cent of total demand.

Although data centre companies tend to procure energy from the grid, or directly via power purchase agreements, they almost always have diesel back-up generators on site to ensure operations can continue in the event of unstable supply.

Equinix and Digital Realty are some of the biggest real estate investment trusts in Europe. Equinix has 89 data centres in 29 cities across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, while Digital Realty has more than 110 across 13 European countries, including the UK, France and Germany.

Aitkenhead said his company’s diesel generators would normally have their tanks filled to 60 per cent capacity, but Equinix is raising that to 90 per cent across many of its European sites.

Digital Realty told the Financial Times that as well as buying in more diesel, it was establishing agreements with its European fuel suppliers that stipulate priority delivery given the majority of its centres are classified as sites of national importance.

(Source: FT, August 26-2022)

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