Data centres will force State to choose between climate and investment

Proliferation of data centres will make carbon-reduction targets harder to meet

A single data centre uses the same power as tens of thousands of homes. Photograph: iStock

A single data centre uses the same power as tens of thousands of homes. Photograph: iStock

 

The news that Chinese social media giant, TikTok, plans to invest up to €420 million here on a huge data centre is a reminder that Ireland is the undisputed European capital for such facilities, hosting more than 50 for big names such as Amazon and Microsoft. This brings opportunities for the State, but also threats.

Data centres, which are basically warehouses stuffed full of large computers storing information collected by tech companies, are not major employers. Not even the largest of the facilities here would have more than 100 workers, and most have only 30 or 40.

Yet the State, through IDA Ireland, has energetically pursued such investments over the last decade.The thinking in official circles is that if they can convince a tech company to make such a pivotal structural investment here, then the Republic will be at the top of the queue when that company is making other, more labour-intensive investments in future. This might include a European headquarters, for example.

A data centre quite literally physically solidifies the relationship between this State and the technology industry.

But they also gobble up huge amounts of energy– each one uses the same power as tens of thousands of homes. It has been estimated by State energy officials that data centres could suck up close to a third of the State’s electricity within eight years. There are at least a further 10 data centres under construction, and another 20 or so are planned.

This will make it far more difficult for the State to meet stringent targets to reduce carbon emissions in coming years. It will also be much harder for the Government to convince farmers, manufacturers and other sectors of the economy to cut their emissions when another arm of the State – the IDA – is rolling out the red carpet for power-hungry data centres.

As we lead increasingly digital lives, tech companies are not going to go away, but nor is the climate emergency. At some point in coming years, the State may have to choose between meeting climate targets and investment targets.

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