I'm not sure that I'll comment as extensively as I'm tempted to do by this article from Yevgenly Sverdlick in Datacenter Dynamics - my central complaint with the article is that it doesn't present a utility perspective on any of the issues covered.
And I will say that with twenty-five years in the utility industry I am still defensive when issues like grid reliability come up. For example, I would change the opening sentence to "electrical utility grids are notoriously reliable.."
The issues of service reliability, the carbon content of power, and the opportunities for self-generation that could lead to grid independence for major data centers are all worthy of discussion, and the thoughts from the quoted industry leaders all have their merits.
But I would counter that the transmission-service power that multi-megawatt data centers get from utilities is very very reliable and a great value.
Yes, you have to make your own investments if you want a higher degree of reliability, but utilities have never been asked or required to provide that level of service. They would have to make the same kinds of investments that data centers do to provide that reliability, and the customers who want that reliability would have to pay for it. Does that sound fair? It is the basis for utility rate regulation after all.
The comments on renewables and a cleaner generation portfolio are apropos, but fail to acknowledge that getting to a cleaner, greener mix will mean higher costs. Sure, wind is pretty cheap, but it has to be offset with costs for generation or storage to make up for intermittent generation.
And fuel cells? The mumbled truth I keep hearing is that they provide power at nine cents a kWh after tax and incentive subsidies, and with the historically low gas prices we see today. And that may not include the standby charges that the utility will assess to back you up.
Large data centers in California, paying perhaps the second highest rates in the country, see average rates of under nine cents per kWh. You bring your backup systems and factor in those costs. But please remember that the utility pays taxes, and franchise fees, and provides the money for self generation incentive programs. No tax incentives in this equation.
I said I wasn't going to comment extensively (and I could go on), and now I've made myself a liar! It is a shame though how far apart the worlds of power utilities and the data center industry remain, after a solid decade of staggering data center development in terms of both scale and scope.
I recommend this article as key reading for utility managers seeking to understand the data center market - it certainly covers that side of the story well.