ERC to study ‘massive' energy usage of data centers

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will be carrying out a comprehensive study to examine the impact of massive energy use of data centers where foreign investments in the sector are flourishing.

According to ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera, the regulatory body already did initial consultation with the information and communications technology (ICT) sector “for us to understand their specific energy needs.”

She emphasized that apart from integrating their electricity demand into the country’s power capacity additions, these shall also be harmonized with the expansion and upgrade of the transmission facilities being pursued by system operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

In addition, the ERC chief noted there should be strategic planning for the siting of substations of the distribution utilities (DUs) that will be catering to the electricity service needs of these data centers, including the so-called “hyperscalers” because these are the installations that will be gobbling up massive energy on their operations.

Hyperscale data centers are typically those operated by giant tech-companies, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alibaba, wherein their IT platforms are visited by hundreds of millions to billions of end-users on a daily basis. They typically consume enormous scale of energy to run their IT network as well as to keep their equipment cool.

These big tech firms also have their operations in the Philippines; and even local telecom giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) is now expanding its data center ventures.

“We had consultations with these big companies already and we tried to understand their needs because we need to have these in sync even with the NGCP projects; and also the setting up of substations. What is also coming up as a concern is on power supply, because their demand will cause increase in capacity that we need,” Devanadera stressed.

In other countries, the colossal electricity demand of data centers had been eating up into overall power supply wheeled through electric grids – and given the uptick on the energy usage of ICT giants, some customer segments have been suffering blackout predicaments.

Devanadera acknowledged that the electricity service interruptions to the other constituent of end-users shall be avoided, and that will be the anchor of a study that the ERC will be undertaking in mapping up the energy usage of data centers – given also the fact that this is one of the flagship programs being pushed by the incoming Marcos administration, including aspirations to re-position the Philippines as ‘data center hub’ in the Asia Pacific region.

Energy experts are recommending that one focus of energy efficiency campaigns shall be on the way data centers have been using electricity through the chain of their operations to ensure other end-users will not just be tormented with blackouts. This could likewise emerge as a global challenge on the mitigation of climate change risks as higher energy consumption could trigger hike in carbon emissions.