Not just an Irish problem: Addressing data centres’ environmental impact

27 Mar 2023

Dominic Ward, CEO, Verne Global. Image: Connor McKenna/Silicon Republic

Good digital infrastructure is the key to making the data centre industry more sustainable, according to Verne Global CEO Dominic Ward.

Data centres consume pretty monumental amounts of energy. Modern Ireland uses a lot of data thanks to the technology that each one of us has at our fingertips, not to mention the industrial levels of data used by big businesses.

But, despite our growing reliance on data centres to store the massive amounts of data we need, there is a fear among many people that data centres require too much power and are therefore unsustainable.

With bodies such as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consistently warning us all that we are in danger of more natural disasters, famines and rising sea levels, it is understandable that lots of people are angry over the apparent lack of concern shown to the potential impact that data centres have on the environment.

In fact, ask your average environmentally-conscious person in Ireland what they think about the data centre industry and you are likely to be met with a surge of fury not too dissimilar from that of the Icelandic geysers.

According to Dominic Ward, CEO of Verne Global, a newly formed link between Ireland and Iceland ­– the land famous for its unique natural environment – may turn out to be a more effective and environmentally sustainable way of connecting data centres.

The link is something that only very recently became operational. It takes the form of a subsea cable connecting Ireland and Iceland, and it was unveiled by UK-headquartered data centre operator Verne Global only a matter of weeks ago.

As part of a wider conversation around the issue of data centres and sustainability, Ward told that the new subsea cable is one of the ways that the industry is demonstrating a level of responsibility around environmental issues.

He acknowledged that the data centre industry is consuming a lot of energy, but he also said that Verne Global is seeing a huge and “growing market” for data centres.

The company is predominantly focused on the Northern European markets. Ward claimed that Verne Global has a “very clear strategy for the data centre industry, which is focused on sustainable data centre digital infrastructure”.

When we asked him about the Irish market specifically, he 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.

“There is a significantly growing market for data centres and that is drawing a huge amount of power from the grid. And that’s going to continue; that is definitely a trend that we’re seeing everywhere in the world because of this enormous growth in data.”

Ward said he believes that the industry as a whole needs to think about the local national environmental footprints of data centres. Residential reliance on data centres has to be provided for, as well as industrial reliance, and no economy wants to see a situation arise whereby homes are left without power because industry is guzzling too much.

Ward said that one of the ways we can try to alleviate these pressures of supply, demand and environmental impact is by “taking advantage of digital infrastructure.”

That means things like Ireland’s new connection with Iceland is beneficial. “Maybe the most significant thing is that it’s a very low latency link,” Ward said of the cable.

“For those that think in latency terms, it’s only 10 milliseconds away. So from Iceland to Dublin, 10 millisecond travel time for the speed of light.

“It basically means that most applications that you’re going to see anywhere in the Dublin market, or anywhere in Ireland for the data centres that sit in Ireland, can now move that data to a Nordic location which is much more cost-effective; has much lower price of power; has a much more stable price of power; is 100pc renewable; but also has greater efficiency because of the natural environment in which data centres can be built and operated in an environment like Iceland.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.