Apple’s €850 million data centre gets big welcome in Galway

The only byproduct of the tech giant’s plant will be ‘hot air’ produced on the Coillte site

Multinationals don't normally come to the west of Ireland for weather, but that doesn't apply to Apple and Athenry. The sleet and the storm force winds, which coincided with its €850 million data centre announcement for the Co Galway town, are the sort of conditions which save a bit on air conditioning bills.

"We are absolutely delighted," Fine Gael councillor Peter Feeney told The Irish Times, fresh from a breakfast briefing on the plans in a local hotel. "This is a very significant investment, and the only by-product will be a lot of hot air."

The 500-acre woodland site at Derrydonnell has been surveyed for several months, and its mixture of marshland and rock deemed geologically stable, he says.

The mature pine planted close to the Dublin-Galway railway line has never thrived, and was never the most commercially viable forest for Coillte.


Neither Coillte nor IDA Ireland was able to provide details on the cost of the land transfer, but the IDA said that there was "no financial arrangement" and "no grant assistance" provided to Apple.

A planning application is expected to be submitted to Galway County Council in coming weeks, and some 200 construction jobs are forecast if the project is approved. The series of seven to eight "pods" will resemble a series of "up-market warehouses", according to the local briefing.

Energy and security are factors in the location choice – data centres require "significant amounts" of the former, as NUI Galway information technology expert Hugh Melvin points out.

“It will probably be looking for some 30 to 50 MW of energy, which is the equivalent of seven of the largest wind turbines,and it will need at least two to three sources of electric power,” he says.

Ireland’s high electricity costs – 30 per cent more now than in 2010, which is well above the European average – will be offset by the temperate location.

A similar data centre which Apple plans for Viborg in western Denmark will, the company says, help sustain the power grid while also warming homes by using excess heat captured from inside.

NUIG energy systems engineering lecturer Rory Monaghan says that data centres produce "incredible amounts" of heat. For instance, the data centre on the university campus has an air emissions system which warms seagulls on its roof.

“Unfortunately we don’t have district – or shared – heating systems as in Denmark,” Dr Monaghan says. “This sort of centre could warm a number of housing estates, if they were sufficiently close by.”

Apple has promised that it will use renewable energy, but local residents have been told that this does not involve construction of a wind farm – rather the company will purchase power from a renewable energy provider. The site is bordered by a 110 KV line from Casla on one side, and by a 240 KV line on the other, Cllr Feeney noted.

Its woodland location some two-and-a half miles from Athenry is deemed ideal for security, which will involve “fencing and electric vehicle patrols”, according to the information given to residents.

An “outdoor classroom” has been promised for Lisheenkyle national school, which backs up onto Derrydonnell wood. The 227-pupil school already has a “seomra na coille” or “eco-classroom” and its own 11 kw wind turbine for its albeit much smaller energy needs.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times