London’s aging power grid undermines British AI ambitions, Virtus Warns
London’s electricity system is struggling to add more data centers, deterring potential investment and undermining Britain’s ambitions in technology like AI, a business has warned the UK energy regulator.
London's electricity system is struggling to add more data centers, deterring potential investment and undermining Britain's ambitions in technology like AI, a business has warned the UK energy regulator.
“A combination of lack of immediate power combined with delays in future power is preventing us from growing our business within the southeast of England via the addition of new sites,” Virtus Data Centres Ltd.'s engineering director, Peter Betts, wrote. It's “preventing the region from reaping the benefits from future technological advancements in areas such as artificial intelligence, an area in which the UK wishes to become the global center of excellence.”
Lack of power in the southeastern part of England has stalled about £500 million ($636 million) of investment in new data center facilities, Betts said as part of a letter sent by industry association TechUK to regulators.
The server farms are one of a number of industries being delayed by insufficient power access in the UK. Much of the new power generation is coming from offshore wind farms off the coast of Scotland, which is difficult to move down south.
National Grid Plc and the government's Office of Gas and Electricity Markets have blamed each other for the slow buildout of new grid connections, which is also hampering residential housing and has led to queues longer than a decade for some projects. Earlier this month, the grid operator said it's prepared to boot any planned generation capacity from the queue that isn't progressing quickly to make room for other projects.
“If the UK wants to continue to be a big player in AI as well as other emerging technologies we need the infrastructure that underpins these innovations,” Neil Ross, TechUK's associate director of policy, said. “Slow and expensive access to power is putting this at risk and stopping infrastructure being built, from data centers to telecoms networks to semiconductor manufacturing.”
An Ofgem spokesperson said connection delays were a “major obstacle” to building new data centers and other power-hungry projects that requires “urgent” policy reform.
“We recognize the frustration some of our connections customers are experiencing,” Julian Leslie, the grid operator's head of networks, said earlier this year. “We are determined to address the challenges with the current process which was not designed to operate the sheer scale of applications we are receiving today.”