18pc of Ireland’s electricity was used by data centres last year

13 Jun 2023

Image: © Gorodenkoff/Stock.adobe.com

The electricity consumption by Irish data centres grew by 31pc last year, as existing sites consumed more electricity and new centres were added to the grid.

Irish data centres consumed as much metered electricity as all urban dwellings last year, as their mark on the country’s grid continues to rise rapidly, according to figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

The figures show data centres consumed 18pc of Ireland’s metered electricity last year, up from 14pc in 2021. This signals a rapidly increasing rate of consumption, as this figure was only 5pc in 2015.

Urban and residential dwellings both reduced their electricity share last year. Urban dwellings consumed 18pc of electricity in 2022, down from 21pc in 2021, while residential dwellings fell from 12pc to 10pc in the same period.

Overall, the median electricity consumption of residential buildings dropped by 12pc last year, while the consumption average of large energy users rose by 20pc.

The statistics show that the electricity consumption of Irish data centres grew by 31pc between 2021 and 2022. CSO figures last year showed that in 2021, data centres consumed more electricity than all of Ireland’s rural dwellings.

Niamh Shanahan, statistician in the CSO’s environment and climate division, said these figures show “a steady increase from quarter to quarter”.

“The increase in consumption was driven by a combination of existing data centres using more electricity and new data centres being added to the grid,” she added.

Growing energy concerns

The rapid growth of data centres in Ireland has also sparked discussions about their environmental impact and the pressure they could cause to the country’s energy grid.

In 2021, grid operator EirGrid predicted “electricity supply challenges” for Ireland in the coming years in part due to the growth of demand driven by large energy users. It added that data centres could account for a quarter of the country’s electricity usage by 2030.

The Government confirmed last year that new data centre developments in general will not be banned in Ireland, despite concerns around their environmental impact and the pressure they place on the electricity grid. Instead, the Government proposed a set of tighter regulations for new developments.

These regulations include preferring new data centres “associated with strong economic activity and employment” and that make “efficient use of our electricity grid, using available capacity and alleviating constraints”.

In March, Verne Global CEO Dominic Ward spoke to SiliconRepublic.com about the environmental impact data centres present worldwide. Ward said that there was a tension between rising demand for data centres and people’s concerns around their impact on the environment – and that this is the case all over Europe.

Experts predicted earlier this year that energy regulation is “inevitable” for this sector, with estimates that data centres consume more than 3pc of the total energy generated worldwide.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic