The Irish Times view on data centres: scepticism is warranted

A welcome strategic revision of data centre development still accepts dubious industry claims

The Government has produced a welcome strategic reconsideration of data centre development this week, set forth in what the Department of Enterprise called a “revised” Statement on the Role of Data Centres in Ireland’s Enterprise Strategy. The new outlook was long overdue.

Even before the current, Ukraine war-driven alarm over securing an adequate domestic energy supply, the national grid had been under serious strain. EirGrid and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities have identified data centres – which can have the electricity demands of a small city – as a problem because of the significant demand they place on already-constrained supply. Data centres consume 14 per cent of Ireland’s electricity supply. According to May figures from the Central Statistics Office, that’s more than all rural housing, at 12 per cent, and is an incredible 265 per cent increase since 2015. As the Government struggles to meet its existing decarbonisation pledges, alongside a growing energy cost crisis and pent-up demand for housing, tackling this energy hog industry is an absolute necessity.

The revised statement rightly acknowledges the need to find a balance between facilities which are part of Ireland’s overall digital strategy and the need to better manage growth by driving down their energy burden, pushing it away from over-saturated Dublin towards the regions.

However, the statement’s broad strokes still raise questions that must be addressed. Arguing that data centres support Irish society’s ongoing digital transition swallows the data industry’s claims that the cloud-based infrastructure critical to our digital interactions must be physically nearby, even though the cloud industry has long argued that data can be anywhere. The Government statement also wholly embraces another recent industry sector strategic pivot on employment and overall value. “Digital infrastructure should be assessed in the context of the total economic value it gives rise to, including employment across the value chain, as well as its role in underpinning the evolving data economy.”


Even industry experts do not agree on what that value is. An annual State report independently assessing existing and planned facilities should be a requirement, as should facility progress towards clear decarbonisation requirements. Data centre strategy must also extend beyond economic and climate considerations to include housing and community development.

This week, it was revealed that developers in west London face a potential ban until 2035 on new house-building because of insufficient electricity capacity largely created by too many data centres in the region. New Irish data centre development must be assessed more holistically than outlined in the new statement, and future-proofed against such disastrous community outcomes.