If all the proposed data centres for Ireland were to be connected they could use as much as 70 per cent of Ireland’s electricity grid capacity in 2030, according to a leading academic in this area.
Dr Patrick Bresnihan of National University of Ireland, Maynooth, will tell the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment and Climate Change that while data centres currently represented 11 per cent of grid capacity, the energy used by those existing connections will rise to almost 30 per cent of overall capacity by the end of the decade. If all other data centres proposed for Ireland are allowed, their energy use would comprise 70 per cent of capacity on the national grid.
This compares with the worldwide situation where only 2 per cent of electricity is consumed by data centres.
In his opening statement to the committee , Dr Bresnihan raises concerns about the continued expansion of this sector on a number of grounds.
“Data centres are currently responsible for 1.58 per cent of Ireland’s carbon emissions,” according to the opening statement.
A lecturer in the university’s geography department, Dr Bresnihan also says that while Ireland has committed to having 70 per cent of its electricity sourced from renewables (mainly wind) by 2030, there will be a need, especially in the short term, for other sources of energy, which is likely to be natural gas.
“Achieving ambitious emissions and renewable targets by 2030 will undoubtedly be far more difficult with the addition of more data centres to the grid,” he has stated.
He said that an average data centre used as much electricity as a small city like Kilkenny. He also said that an average centre was also a large consumer of water, using an estimated 500,000 litres per day.
Dr Bresnihan said that Singapore had become the first country in the world to introduce a moratorium on data centres. It has said it will only lift the moratorium when renewable energy capacity has been increased plus data storage technologies have been sufficiently developed to reduce the energy burden.
“From these figures it is evident that Ireland shoulders more than a fair share of the energy and water burden of global digital activities… In a context where households are facing increased energy bills and carbon taxes, the continued granting of planning permission to energy-intensive data centres is already being perceived as unfair,” he has said.
In a separate submission Professor James Carton of Dublin City University makes the case for a marked increase of the use of hydrogen as a clean alternative to fossil fuels. He says DCU has modelled for the storage needed for 100 per cent renewable energy and said it concluded it was beyond the capacity of batteries, but within that of hydrogen.
“Many EU countries and countries worldwide are beginning to embrace hydrogen, rolling out heavy transport, co-firing gas turbines, decarbonising industries, developing ships to move it by sea, developing platforms to produce on offshore wind turbines; while also preparing the groundwork for long-term energy storage.
“Ireland must follow this lead; produce green hydrogen at a useful scale to deploy it in suitable mature applications such as heavy transport, industry, and data centre power generation.”