The Irish Times view on data centres: a system under strain

Ministers say data centres buttress economic growth, but such claims are largely based on mostly-unverifiable evidence from one of technology’s most secretive industries

As more facts emerge about the real impact of data centres, the more short-sighted appear two decades of government decisions regarding the location and value of the large computing warehouses.

This week, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) revealed that Ireland’s 75 data centres consumed nearly a fifth of the country’s electricity supply in 2022, matching the electricity used by the entire Irish urban residential population, and a 30 per cent rise over 2021. In 2015, the centres consumed 5 per cent.

That’s a bloated 400 per cent expansion in under a decade, even as concern was expressed repeatedly by experts and national grid operator EirGrid over growing pressure on the national grid, particularly from data centres. The centres are major energy users because a large centre may power tens to hundreds of thousands of computer servers, which also require air conditioning to avoid overheating. The centres are also heavy water users. Large centres have the energy and water needs of a small city.

With 30 more centres in planning and eight under construction, the sector looks likely to exceed EirGrid’s predictions that data centre electricity use could rise to between 23 and 30 per cent of overall national consumption by the end of the decade.


Although EirGrid has imposed a temporary moratorium on new centres in the saturated Dublin region, forcing these venues elsewhere won’t address underlying electricity supply problems. And the Government has yet again stated this week that it will not cap the sector’s growth.

Ireland needs data centres, which provide essential data storage and management for domestic and business users as well as for the international operations of the technology multinationals. But continuing to allow rampant growth is kowtowing to the sector and Ireland’s multinationals even as the grid continues to struggle and Ireland fails to meet its climate commitments.

Ministers this week spoke of centres buttressing economic growth, and insisted data centres would grow greener. But such claims are largely based on mostly-unverifiable evidence from one of technology’s most secretive industries. Worldwide, journalists and citizen groups have had to take officials and data centre companies (sometimes hiding behind shell companies) to court to force out the truth about planning permissions and vast energy and water consumption.

No green energy solution is in sight. The bulk of Ireland’s renewables depend on wind, and this week’s amber energy alert is a reminder that wind energy vanishes on windless days. Alternatives such as offshore wind or wave energy will be years in development.

Ireland already has more data centres per capita than 99 per cent of the world. A cap on growth makes sense – as does better, fact-based accountability from the sector, and from government.