Google has developed a way to reduce the energy consumption of its datacenters when there is major stress on the local power grid. The idea is to transfer some non-urgent computing tasks to other locations and times, without impacting the services offered. According to Google's blog, the company has already been using a carbon-smart computing platform since 2020 to transfer tasks and, consequently, the associated energy consumption to where carbon-free energy sources are available. Now, this demand response capacity is being applied to temporarily reduce energy consumption in data centres and relieve energy demand for overloaded local power grids. Now, when Google receives a warning from the power grid operator, for example, about a weather event that could cause instability in the power supply, an algorithm is activated to generate hourly instructions for specific datacenters to limit non-urgent computing tasks and reschedule them after the event is over. When feasible, some of these tasks are redirected to datacenters under a different power grid. According to Google, all this is done without additional hardware and without affecting the performance of its services. For Google, this is an alternative approach to the growing demand for energy. Until now, the main solution has been to add more capacity to electricity grids, which are often responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions. However, Google points to recent studies that show that the concept of demand response can help reduce the need for investment in new fossil fuel resources, supporting the growth of variable renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. “By developing a new approach to demand response across all our datacenters and paving the way for others to do the same, we're collaborating to deliver important benefits for power grids,” says Google in its blog. This approach has already been trialled in various locations where Google operates. During last winter in Europe, to support efforts across the region to reduce energy consumption, measures such as daily reductions in energy consumption during peak periods were implemented in datacenters in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Finland and Denmark. Google took similar action in Taiwan during the 2022 and 2023 release periods and in Oregon, Nebraska and the south-eastern region of the United States during the recent heatwaves and winter storms. How the demand response concept works in practice The concept of demand response is based on incentives to balance demand on electricity networks, shifting consumption to where energy sources are more abundant or demand is lower. These incentives generally take the form of lower tariffs or monetary advantages.The concept of demand response is based on incentives to balance demand on electricity networks, shifting consumption to where energy sources are more abundant or demand is lower. These incentives generally take the form of lower tariffs or monetary advantages. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), this flexibility will become increasingly important as grids progressively rely on variable energy sources such as wind and solar power. The IEA emphasizes that support for regulation and the implementation of the demand response concept has grown over the last few years, but the pace of adoption of policies and technologies needs to accelerate if net emissions are to be zeroed by 2050. Digital technologies, such as those employed by Google, have a key role to play in automating the demand response scheme through connected systems that take advantage of the growing potential of distributed energy resources, such as solar panels. Directives in Europe Under the terms of the European Commission's revised Energy Efficiency Directive, which is already in force, owners and operators of datacenters with a minimum installed computing capacity of 500 kW must disclose their energy performance - data for 2023 must be reported by 15 May 2024. New metrics must now be defined by December 2023, following a public consultation. According to the commission, datacenters accounted for 2.7% of electricity consumption in 2018 across the region and could reach 3.2% by 2030, depending on current trends and if nothing is done to reduce consumption.