The number of operational data centres in Ireland increased by 25 per cent over the past year, a report by the data hosting industry has confirmed.
The carbon emissions arising from the data centres was 1.85 per cent of Ireland’s total carbon emissions in 2020 but this number “is expected to remain stable even as data centre electricity usage is expected to double over the next five years,” according to the biannual report from Host in Ireland.
Construction investment in data centre facilities in Ireland totalled €7 billion in the decade between 2010 and 2020. The coming five years will see a further €7 billion of investment, based on data centres with approved planning permission, with €1.33 billion of that to be spent in 2021, it predicts – much of the investment will be in securing power from renewable sources; notably wind.
There are now 70 operational data centres in Ireland using 900 megawatts (MW), with eight under construction with 250MW usage. Most are concentrated around Dublin which has become the largest data centre hub in Europe.
The report, with analysis by Bitpower and Cornwall Insight, highlights the importance of sustainability in Ireland's digital transformation.
The data centre sector is dominated by the hyperscale data companies Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google; all of which are committed to using 100 per cent renewables and net-zero emissions – and in some cases "negative emissions", Bitpower chief executive David McAuley said at an online briefing.
With more than 50 per cent of Irish businesses now recognising the need for a long-term digital-first strategy for wellbeing and survival – especially in light of the pandemic – “data centres play a key role, both technically and economically, to make this happen as the industry currently underpins €132 billion in ICT exports in Ireland,” the report adds.
In 2020, Ireland reached a key milestone in its target of 70 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 with 43 per cent of electricity generated from renewable sources. “This includes requests from the data centre industry which currently consumes 11 per cent of the energy generation on the grid today,” it points out.
Based on the latest version of its “all-island forward curve” – a forecast of the future market structure – “we expect this number to increase to 19 per cent in 2026. While this represents an 8 per cent increase in the proportion of data centre megawatt power consumption versus the available energy generation, it is important to note in this same five-year timeframe data centre growth is expected to double. Data centre power consumption will not grow at the same rate as industry growth,” it predicts.
Future opportunity “comes from power companies and their customers – including large-scale power users like data centres – aligning to collaborate towards a common goal and objective”.
Host in Ireland founder Garry Connolly said: "Now it's time for the data centre industry to be brave, creative and relentless to meet the sustainability challenge. As our dependence on data grows, so too does our need for data centres and the people who make the magic happen."
“The ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ mindset is not going to maintain and grow one of Ireland’s largest export industries. It is going to require a greater level of collective purpose between the energy producers and the emerging data-led industries to not only co-exist, but benefit from each other,” he added.