Host in Ireland report downplays future emissions impact of data centres

28 May 2020

Image: © WIROT/

Host in Ireland’s latest quarterly report claims that CO2 from data centres will level off to just a few percent of the country’s total emissions by 2025.

Data centre advocacy group Host in Ireland has published its first quarterly report for 2020, in conjunction with Bitpower, downplaying the sector’s effects on Ireland’s overall future carbon emissions.

It said that the decarbonisation of the electricity grid and renewable-first purchasing policies in the Irish data centre industry will see CO2 emissions from data centres level off at about 2.2pc of the country’s total emissions by 2025. The predictive model expects this increase to slow further if the targets set by the Climate Action Plan are met.

The report added that by the end of 2025, there will be 1,700MW of data centre capacity operational in Ireland. With approximately 708MW of data centre capacity in Ireland today, the report predicts this will increase to 820MW by the end of this year.

Host in Ireland said the report was based on data from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the Irish Wind Energy Association, the Environmental Protection Agency and EirGrid.

Role of on-site natural gas

The report also discussed on-site self-generation of electricity at Irish data centres that use natural gas. The process involves large engines and operates in a similar way to a conventional power plant. Natural gas contains approximately 204.7g of CO2 per kWh at a conversion efficiency rate of 40pc.

When electricity is generated, emissions increase to 512g of CO2 per kWH, assuming there is no reuse of waste heat from engines. The authors of the report said that a small number of facilities have set up temporary natural gas generators on site in 2018, with others planning for large-scale generation combined with “complementary grid connections”.

Host in Ireland said that this more carbon-intensive generation of electricity is beneficial in the case when wind levels are too low and there is local grid congestion.

To date, a number of the major tech companies with operations in Ireland have either begun or have developed on-site renewable electricity generation, such as Amazon in Cork and Facebook in Meath.

€9bn of investment needed

“The growth of the Irish data centre industry will go hand-in-hand with the development of green electricity to meet power availability demands,” said Garry Connolly, president and founder of Host in Ireland.

“Wind generation is virtually an untapped resource of green electricity within Ireland’s borders and coastline and provides limitless opportunities for both Ireland and the industry.”

Prior to this report, there have been growing concerns of the impact of data centres on Ireland’s emissions, and the country’s ability to achieve its carbon emissions targets for 2030 and beyond. A report last year from EirGrid predicted that data centres could account for 29pc of all electricity demand in Ireland by 2028.

Meanwhile, the Irish Academy of Engineering estimated last year that €9bn of new energy infrastructure will be needed by 2027 to meet the demands of new data centres, which will add 1.5m tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030.

However, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Host in Ireland report said there has been decline in data centre investment of between 10pc and 15pc in Q1 2020, resulting in spending of approximately €200m being delayed. The group still expects an additional €6.7bn in investment by 2025.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic