Data centres struggle to balance foreign investment and climate action

data centre cables
alex mulhare

12th August 2021

 

Data centres may restrict Ireland from reaching its long-term climate change goals.

 

Currently, there are 70 data centres around Ireland, making it the data centre capital of Europe.

 

54 of these data centres are located across County Dublin, with 10 more under construction as of 2021.

 

Planning permission has also been granted for a further 31 data centres in the coming years.

 

In the last year alone, ten new data centres came online in Ireland. As a result, data centres represented 1.85 per cent of Ireland’s total carbon emissions during the same period.

 

€7.13 billion was invested in constructing Irish data centres during the last decade. A further €7 billion is estimated to be spent on data centre construction within the next five years.

 

Operating 24 hours per day, data centres consume a vast amount of electricity.

 

“Data centres are part of the core infrastructure of the digital economy by enabling data storage, including e-payments, secure transactions, banking, streaming, video, and outbound IP traffic, and disaster recovery services,” said Neasa Hourigan, a Green Party TD (Teachta Dála) for Dublin Central, in a statement to STAND News. “They have become increasingly important in the context of remote working during the pandemic and also support high-quality jobs.”

 

Ireland’s data centres (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, among other multinational companies) consume 900 megawatts (MW) of energy. To put this amount of energy into perspective, one wind turbine will typically produce 2 to 3 MW.

 

In 2020, data centres occupied 11 per cent of the country’s total energy demand.”

EirGrid, an electric power operator that is committed to producing renewable electricity in Ireland, has predicted that data centre capacity could account for 29 per cent of the country’s total electricity demand by 2028. In 2020, data centres occupied 11 per cent of the country’s total energy demand.

 

The EirGrid Generation Capacity Statement 2019-2028 suggests that an energy deficit could occur by 2025 due to Ireland’s data centre electricity requirements.

 

The concentration of data centre construction around Dublin puts the capital and its surrounding areas at heightened risk of suffering the consequences of an energy deficit. 

 

“I do not believe it is sustainable, or that it is possible to make it sustainable,” said Bríd Smith, a People Before Profit TD for Dublin South-Central, during a Dáil Éireann debate on 10 March 2021. “If we take the climate crisis seriously, we will not go down this road. It is not in our interest to gobble up renewable energy and water on this scale. Ireland bends over backwards to facilitate foreign direct investment.”

 

Responding to these comments, Minister for the Environment, Climate, Communications and Transport, Eamon Ryan, said, “Offshore wind has the potential for us to go even further, such as an additional 30 gigawatts (GW). That is the scale. It is almost nine times what we are using at present in terms of scale. There will be opportunities in this country whereby, if we locate [data centres] correctly and have the grid correctly connected to them, we will be able to run data centres efficiently with low carbon.”

 

Under the Climate Bill set out by Government in 2021, Ireland has committed to reducing its emissions by 51 per cent over the period to 2030. 

 

This plan also provided the legislation for Ireland to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, meaning that the amount of emissions released into and removed from the environment must be equal.  

 

Water conservation is also an emerging area of concern as data centres must use a significant amount of water in their cooling systems.

 

The average data centre consumes approximately 500,000 litres of water per day, according to figures gathered by the Sunday Business Post.

 

With climate change causing Ireland’s temperatures to rise, as seen with the recent heatwave, Irish Water is coming under pressure to take action. 

 

In warmer climate conditions, data centres can require up to 5 million litres of water per day. 

 

The July heatwave resulted in domestic Irish Water customers being advised against excessive water usage but it is unclear whether the same warning, if any, was issued to data centres.

 

Ireland is expected to host a further €4.5 billion worth of data centre construction by 2025. 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Thomas Jensen

This article was supported by: STAND Environment Editor Anastasiya + Programme Assistant Alex

 

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