Business Irish

Friday 27 April 2018

Revealed: Data centres to swallow 75pc of growth in Irish power demand

An artist’s impression of the data centre planned for Athenry in Co Galway
An artist’s impression of the data centre planned for Athenry in Co Galway
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Data centres will consume up to 20pc of all electricity generated in the State within a decade, which will pose an enormous challenge for Ireland meeting its climate change targets.

The amount of power needed to store emails, texts and other online data could rise seven-fold as Ireland chases inward investment from tech giants including Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, data from EirGrid shows.

The national grid operator says that data centres could account for 75pc of new demand by 2030, and that the grid will have to be bolstered - particularly in Dublin - to meet projected growth, which could require additional power generation.

"Large industrial connections normally do not dominate a country's energy demand forecast but this is the case for Ireland at the moment," the All-Island Generation Capacity Statement 2017-2026 says.

It adds that conventional generation capacity is falling as older plants are due to shut down over the coming years.

While the amount of renewables being added to the system is increasing, capacity in Dublin is on a knife edge.

The amount of power needed to store emails, texts and other online data could rise seven-fold as Ireland chases inward investment from tech giants including Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, data from EirGrid shows. Stock photo
The amount of power needed to store emails, texts and other online data could rise seven-fold as Ireland chases inward investment from tech giants including Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, data from EirGrid shows. Stock photo

The IDA is actively encouraging firms to develop data centres, and appointed an engineering firm over the summer to identify at least six strategic sites with grid access across the country.

Critics point to the fact that while jobs are generated during construction, relatively few full-time positions are available once they are completed.

This week, the Commercial Court ruled that a €850m data centre proposed by Apple in Athenry, Co Galway, could go ahead following a lengthy planning and legal appeal. Up to 150 full-time jobs will be created on completion.

At full capacity, the first phase of the plant will use some 30MW of power, the equivalent use of almost 26,000 homes. Over time, this will rise to 240MW.

Despite the climate impacts arising from generating this enormous quantity of power, there is still no Government policy in place setting out the most suitable locations, the jobs potential and environmental impact of data centres.

The Commercial Court noted that there was no national climate change policy regarding high energy consuming projects such as data centres, but it is understood the cabinet will discuss developing policies on Tuesday.

The Department of Justice and Attorney General are also considering what structures are required to avoid the delays as occurred in the Apple case. It is not clear if climate impacts will be addressed.

And while sources suggest the Government is keen to promote Ireland as being a location where it can meet the needs of the IT sector by providing certainty around planning and power supply, not all ministers are convinced. There are concerns about emissions from power generation, as well as potential issues in relation to fuel poverty and impact on energy bills for consumers, coupled with the cost of grid upgrades.

Analysis from EirGrid shows that data centres already connected to the grid consume 250MW of electricity, sufficient to power more than 210,000 homes.

Another 550MW is due to be connected over the coming years, enough for almost 470,000 houses, while projects under discussion could consume as much as 1,000MW - enough for 850,000 homes.

"If all of these enquiries were to connect, the data centre load could account for 20pc of all-island peak demand," it says in its ten-year transmission forecast statement.

"Clearly the potential connection of demand on this scale is equivalent to decades of national demand growth," the statement adds.

Massive investment in sub-stations and other infrastructure - particularly around Dublin - will be required, sources said.

The level of proposed connections is highest in north Dublin, and there is "limited additional network capacity" available to meet demand.

Measures such as encouraging some industry to power down during periods of high demand could be used.

"If these connections materialise, new large-scale generation, transmission solutions, demand side response and/or storage will be required in the Dublin area to accommodated further demand increases and ensure continued security of supply," EirGrid says.

Line refurbishments and upgrades, coupled with construction of new sub-stations and additional generation are likely to be required in the capital.

Sources suggest the cost of upgrading the network could run into tens of millions of euro, which will largely be met through connection and annual fees which cover power bills and the cost of upgrades and maintenance.

Irish Independent

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