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Data centres use 18% of all electricity in Ireland

Written by Thu 29 Jun 2023

New figures by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has found that energy consumption by Irish data centres increased by 31% last year, with data centre usage now accounting for 18% of the total energy consumed in Ireland.

Since 2015, the total energy consumed by data centres in the country increased by 400% as a result of existing data centres using more electricity and new centres being added to the grid.

Figures from the CSO show that the centres accounted for more than 5,200 GWh of usage in 2022, out of total metered consumption of 29,500 GWh.

In 2021, data centres used the equivalent of all of the homes in rural areas of the country. With the increase, data centres are approaching consumption equivalent to residences in urban centres.

Ireland’s data centre industry shows no signs of slowing down

Even with this marked increase in energy consumption, the marked use of data centres in the country is not expected to slow down, as companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft plan for more facilities.

Climate Minister Eamon Ryan said at a National Economic Dialogue that he would not call a stop to any additional data centres, but individual facilities should look at how their systems can deliver low carbon electricity or use waste heat for sustainable projects like heating local hospitals and houses.

“The data centres are a really important, beneficial sector for our country. We have a huge advantage of having them here in terms of the potential industries that are based here that come with it,” said Ryan.

Enterprise Minister Simon Coveney echoed these sentiments when asked if the Irish government should reduce the total number of data centres in the country.

“The challenge is not for us to reduce the number of data centres in Ireland. The challenge is to find a way of powering them with sustainable, abundant power by capturing the potential of, in particular, offshore wind, which I think you will see a significant change in investment in the next few years,” said Coveney.

What is the issue with energy consumption?

The fact that there has been such a large increase in energy consumption is a matter of concern. In recent years, the data centre industry has focused on green initiatives and reducing energy consumption, but these figures put the success of these initiatives into question.

In Ireland, high energy consumption is stressing the electrical grid, and jeopardising power supply to residential and business users. This month, Ireland’s electric power transmission operator issued an amber alert with warnings that temporary electricity supply issues could occur in the near future.

The solution to this rising energy consumption could be through innovation. The Science Foundation of Ireland (SFI) believes that the answer may lie in advancements in materials science.

Dr. Lorraine Byrne, an Executive Director at SFI, said that innovation across all components of the data centre will be needed to reduce energy consumption.

“Innovation across everything from the computer chips in servers to building design to software will be required to reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint of data centres. Materials science has an important role to play in this effort,” added Byrne.

Advanced materials with superior thermal conductivity could, for example, improve heat dissipation and reduce the demands placed on HVAC systems.

“Ultimately, reducing the energy consumption and heat generation at an individual chip level will be an enabler for improving the energy efficiency of data centres,” said Byrne.

In 2021, Ireland’s energy regulator also published new rules for connecting data centres to the electricity grid. These connections must use backup generators and reduce power consumption when requested.

These new regulations aimed to mitigate the risks to the electricity networks. Without them, the regulator predicted load shedding and rolling blackouts as a result of demand outstripping available supply at peak times.

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Written by Thu 29 Jun 2023

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