State blows this way and that on tackling climate change

Government eyes up hungry data centres yet wants our energy infrastructure to execute an about-turn to help combat climate change

Further developments should follow the news that Dublin Array has sought a foreshore licence allowing it to survey the area around a proposed €1.5 billion wind farm off the east coast of Ireland. The venture, involving local company Saorgus and German giant Innogy, is one of several such projects planned for the same waters.

Already bidders are circling developer Johnny Ronan's stake in another development in the same area, while Norway's Statkraft, Belgium's Parkway and SSE Airtricity plan to spend more than €6 billion between them building wind farms off the east coast.

Two things are driving this bonanza. One is the Government’s target to meet 70 per cent of electricity demand from renewable sources – mainly wind – by 2030 to ensure that we stick to our commitments on tackling climate change. The second contradicts that aim: data centres.

The Government is encouraging multinationals to build data centres, factories full of computer servers, in the Republic. So they are proliferating in industrial estates around the M50.


They gobble up energy. Official figures estimate that by 2027 data centres will increase Irish electricity consumption to 40 terrawatt hours (TWh) – about enough to power 40 million homes – from 30 TWh this year. That is like adding a city the size of Dublin to our electricity system.

So the Government wants to boost energy consumption – climate change's chief cause – while getting the State's energy infrastructure to execute an about turn to help combat the same problem. It's not that this cannot be done. In fact, national electricity grid operator Eirgrid believes it is possible, but it presents big challenges.

We get about 70 per cent of electricity from burning fossil fuels, mostly natural gas. If demand increases as predicted we must cut our dependence on these fuels by 43 per cent to meet the Government’s target. That will cost employers and families, through public service charges on electricity bills, carbon taxes and other levies, causing hardship for some.

Meeting the target would be easier and cheaper if consumption does not rise as sharply as predicted. So the Government must change its climate change plan or its data centre policy. Politicians cannot have their cake and eat it.