What will Ireland’s data centre growth mean for energy infrastructure?
As the transmission and use of remote data has boomed in recent years – largely thanks to notable advancements in modern communications, wireless technology and smart devices – international dependency on data centres has rocketed too.
These self-contained facilities house the servers and associated systems required to keep data processes running smoothly – enabling everything from such day-to-day activities as sending an email, to critical business operations, government services and transport networks. A guaranteed power supply, high bandwidth connectivity and reliable infrastructure are therefore essential to prevent potentially damaging network disruption.
Ireland’s central position
The recent proliferation of data centres in Ireland is showing no sign of slowing – research findings revealed this month reported that over €1.1bn is expected to be invested in their construction in the country in this year alone. If accurate, that will then mean a cumulative total investment of €5.7bn so far, with €9bn projected to be reached by 2021.
So, what exactly is it that makes Ireland such a hotspot for these tech facilities?
Alongside its cool climate – which helps minimise running costs for heat-generating computers – the country’s transatlantic fibre connectivity, power availability, accessibility, efficient planning processes and well-regarded data protection regulations all play a part in its popularity amongst data centre developers.
Dublin’s T50 fibre trunking system in particular has made the Irish capital a hub for these facilities – with Amazon, Microsoft and Google amongst some of the big names that have chosen to set up data camp in the city.
But what impact is this prevailing popularity having on the country’s energy infrastructure?
Supply and demand
With 46 operational facilities presently in existence in the country – and most of these located in south-west Dublin – the grid has already undergone a net increase of 60MW since the end of 2017, in order to meet the energy requirements of current and planned data centres.
And the projected increase in the number of sites is set to have further significant impact on power demand. EirGrid has estimated that by 2025, data facilities will consume a fifth of Ireland’s generation capacity and could account for 75% of new demand a further five years down the line. The grid must therefore be effectively bolstered to be able to cope with this expected rate of growth.
Plus, it’s widely accepted that the rise in demand will require additional measures of power generation too. Analysis has revealed that data centres in Ireland already consume around 250MW of electricity – and with another 550MW set to be connected in the near future, this will add up to the equivalent required to power more than 680,000 homes. A further 1,000MW-worth of projects is currently under negotiation – sufficient for 850,000 houses – so supply will need to grow sooner rather than later in order to meet rising demand.
When it comes to boosting electricity supply, the favoured solution is undoubtedly renewable generation – largely in line with efforts to meet the Renewable Energy Directive. Somewhat promisingly, a report recently conducted by Host in Ireland states that the amount of new wind farm and solar PV developments currently in progress – accounting for around 2,600MW each – will deliver “sufficient new renewable energy capacity” to fulfil the demand of the growing data industry.
And there has additionally been a lot of talk surrounding the potential that on-site generation has to meet the needs of these power-hungry facilities. For instance, a partnership between Siemens and CES Energy has recently been formed, with the intention of providing such self-sufficient services to the tech conglomerates basing their data centres in Ireland. In addition to fuelling energy demands of the facilities, such on-site solutions also have the potential for channelling any excess power into local communities – boosting efficiency even further, in a way that has already been put into practice in Scandinavia.
Yet alongside new power supply, effective infrastructural maintenance will also remain a priority. As with anything, increased reliance leads to greater disruption if there’s a failure or fault at any point in the process. So ongoing grid upgrades will therefore be required if the network is to continue operating as it should and fulfilling ever-growing demand.
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