Saturday 16 November 2019

We must switch on to pros and cons of boosting our renewable power supply


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Paul Melia Environment editor

Electricity generation will be key to Ireland reducing its carbon emissions and tackling climate change.

We need to electrify our heating and transport systems, and there's a national imperative to have a safe, secure and reliable power supply in place to meet domestic demand.

Most of the increased generation over the coming years will be from renewable sources, primarily wind and solar. This is not just good for the environment, but it's good for business too as it should lead to lower costs.

But there is a need to have a debate about who, or what, is using that power.

EirGrid says that not only do data centres draw enough electricity to power a town, they will account for more than a quarter of all demand over the coming years. On the face of things, they are bad for the environment but, that said, data will play an increasingly important role in the transition to a low-carbon future so they are needed.

But while they provide an employment boost during construction, data centres only require a small workforce once operational.

So should the State be allocating so much electricity to a sector which generates so few jobs, or is hosting data centres and feeding their massive electricity appetites the price to be paid for having such a vibrant tech sector?

The Government has agreed to amend the planning and consenting system to avoid a repeat of the Apple data centre fiasco, but legislation is awaited. It could be an appropriate time to begin a national debate.

However, one thing is clear. We need to generate more power or we risk a deficit in just over five years time.

If we build, and the data centres don't come or we curb their development, the power won't be wasted. We will need it for our electric cars and buses, our homes and our businesses. Others will need it too.

An interconnector to the UK and a second to France are proposed. Ramping up renewable power could become a valuable source of export revenues to be welcomed in these uncertain times.

Irish Independent

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