Ireland’s Data Centers Are Stressing the Grid
Information about Ireland’s Data Centers Are Stressing the Grid
Ireland is an increasingly popular country for data centers. Factors like the nation’s moderate weather, its skilled workforce and low corporate tax rates make decision-makers choose to build facilities there instead of other European countries. However, government officials may need to enforce data center regulation to protect the nation’s electricity grid.
Ireland’s Grid Operator Gives a Sobering Prediction
EirGrid, the entity responsible for operating Ireland’s electricity grid, recently issued a report revealing the scope of the nation’s impending grid strain. It said electricity demand will rise 28%-43% by 2030. Additionally, it noted that data centers are the primary large energy users expected to grow during the forecast period. Those facilities will account for 25% of all power consumption by 2030.
The EirGrid report warned of a potential electricity shortfall in Ireland over the next five winters if authorities did not make changes. However, the data indicated problems could occur this winter, too.
The grid stress would show via system alerts, which happen when there is a small margin between demand and available supply. EirGrid’s employees anticipate those notifications coming this winter and over the coming years.
Representatives from some of Ireland’s minority political parties reacted to this bleak news by recommending a data center moratorium until they could assess this situation further.
Other Experts Sound the Alarm
In October 2021, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action met to discuss Ireland having electricity shortages for the next five winters, due in part to data centers.
The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) chairperson Aoife MacEvilly said data centers were causing growth in electricity demand unlike anything Ireland had seen in the past 100 years. She clarified that new grid connections were occurring faster than ongoing efforts to add the necessary transmission and generation infrastructure.
Dublin City University professor Professor Barry McMullin also spoke at the committee meeting. He believed there must be a two-decade, societywide effort to minimize energy demand. McMullin also argued that data centers have had disproportionate effects on Ireland’s energy usage, and more so than any other sector.
McMullin asserted that Ireland has spent three decades agreeing to put efforts into the climate as long as the economy was going well. However, he thinks now is the time to readjust priorities and put emissions reductions ahead of economic growth.
Data Center Regulation in Ireland Gets Stricter
The earlier push to temporarily halt data center construction did not succeed, but there may be additional requirements for people to meet before building data centers in the country. That’s the main takeaway from a data center consultation process performed by the CRU.
The CRU laid the groundwork for a new connection policy after engaging with data center operators and other relevant parties. Its goal was to facilitate growth in the industry while protecting Ireland’s electricity supply. The proposed new assessment criteria reportedly provide various options for operators to fulfill and succeed with their applications.
However, one of the factors may be a data center’s ability to reduce power consumption upon request during grid-strain periods. The facility may also need on-site energy generation to match or exceed the power used. The regulator intends to examine whether planned data centers are in parts of Ireland already dealing with electricity supply constraints, too.
Data center operators hoping to have a presence in Ireland should start planning now to have the best chances of satisfying the requirements. One way to do that is to understand how data center components collectively influence the facility’s energy usage. A decision-maker might then buy faster CPUs that use less energy than older varieties. Intel and AMD are some of the leaders in CPU development now, but other entities are also worth considering.
Taking more drastic measures may also be necessary. Google achieved a 35% drop in energy usage by letting artificial intelligence control data center temperatures. There’s also the Ireland-specific example of researchers in County Offaly planning to carry out a feasibility study for powering data centers with green hydrogen. Sometimes, bold, pioneering actions prevent adverse outcomes later.
Data Center Growth Cannot Overshadow Climate Goals
The need for more data center regulation was a hot topic during a March 2021 meeting of the lower house of the Irish parliament. During that gathering, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan confirmed that data center planning must align with the country’s other objectives.
He clarified, “We cannot allow economic policy [to] go ahead of sustainability policy. Every sector has to fit in with the new Climate Action Plan we have, and they can, to my mind.” That framework legally binds Ireland to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050. The country must also achieve a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Ryan was responding to Bríd Smith, a government representative of the People Before Profit party. Smith took issue with how the data center presence in Ireland was getting out of hand and would use too much of the country’s renewable energy by 2030, even if such facilities generated electricity on-site.
She also brought up how, as of March 2021, there were already 54 data centers in Ireland. Most were in the Dublin area. Additionally, approximately 30 others had already received planning permission to build in the country soon. Smith pointed out that, in addition to energy, these facilities use lots of water.
Ryan responded to those arguments by saying data centers could operate with low carbon emissions and that the part of the country they were located in was tied to that overarching goal. However, Smith was dissatisfied, saying she believed Ireland was headed down a dangerous road. She argued that no other country would have the concentration of data centers that Ireland would, though it’s unclear where she got her statistics.
What’s Next for Irish Data Center Regulation?
This overview shows why people in power within Ireland must take steps now so data center growth and energy usage happen responsibly, without putting the nation at risk of ongoing blackouts. However, it’s too early to say whether regulators will take this matter seriously enough and realize the necessity of balancing environmental and economic needs.