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Ireland sleepwalking into a disaster with data centre growth

29 Sep 2021

Climate campaigners warn that data centre growth is incompatible with Ireland’s climate commitments as all 160 TDs are contacted by constituents ahead of Thursday's Dáil debate on the issue

 

Friends of the Earth has warned that the Government is failing to do its maths on data centres. The environmental organisation is calling for a moratorium on connecting new data centres to the grid until a proper assessment and public consultation is conducted to examine how we can avoid letting data centres lock Ireland into highly polluting, fossil fuel use for years to come.

Friends of the Earth is also supporting today’s Dáil motion from the Social Democrats which calls for a temporary pause on the expansion of data centres. [1] This warning comes ahead of Thursday’s second stage Dáil debate on an opposition Bill to restrict the development of new data centres and fossil fuel infrastructure [2]. Thousands of emails in support of this Bill have been sent by local constituents to every TD in Ireland this week and the grassroots group Not Here Not Anywhere have organised a demonstration outside the Dáil before the Bill is debated on Thursday evening.

 

Jerry Mac Evilly, Head of Policy Change at Friends of the Earth said:

The Government has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to data centre growth.

We’re facing a situation where data centres built to serve multinationals are making energy demands that are incompatible with our climate commitments and placing severe pressures on our energy system. It seems that Ireland’s FDI policy and approach to data centres has been allowed to develop without any reference to our climate obligations and electricity needs.

We are seriously concerned that the unplanned and short-sighted rush for data centres will lock Ireland into more polluting fossil fuels and higher costs for consumers. We are already seeing authorities racing to build more fossil gas generation and allowing more use of coal. How is it that the Tánaiste and IDA are not on the same page as the rest of Government which is working to decarbonise Ireland’s energy system? And is it fair to let these data centres hog a huge proportion of the renewable energy we’re building?

At the very least, we need a moratorium on new data centres until these questions are answered, through assessment and consultation with the public. We also need legislation in place to ensure coherence and clear restrictions on the development of more fossil fuel infrastructure and data centres.

 

A report[3] published today by EirGrid, the state-owned electric system operator in Ireland, has revealed that data centre power demand has grown by 2400 GWh in the last four years, which is equivalent to the power demands of 560,000 homes. Power demands in other sectors has remained largely flat in recent years, making data centres the primary driver of increasing electricity demand.

The energy regulator has said that Ireland will rely on emergency power generators and delay the retirement of larger, polluting power stations to plug a projected gap between electricity supply and demand . Under a median demand scenario, Eirgrid forecasts that data centres would account for 25% of national electricity demand by 2030. In a high demand scenario this increases to 33%. However these scenarios do not include the most recent connection requests that data centres have made to Eirgrid - which could result in data centres accounting for over 40% of peak electricity demand by 2030 [4].

ENDS

Notes

  1. See https://www.rte.ie/news/2021/0929/1249672-data-centres/
  2. The Planning and Development (Climate Emergency Measures) (Amendment) Bill 2021 is being proposed by Deputy Bríd Smith. It also seeks to prevent fossil fuel infrastructure and data centres from being designated as “strategic infrastructure” and seeks to update the planning process to ensure that the State’s climate targets are taken into account. The Bill’s full text can be found here: https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/bill/2021/86/eng/initiated/b8621d-p-c-sent.pdf
  3. Eirgrid’s All-Island Generation Capacity Statement 2021- 2030 report was published on 29th September 2021 and can be viewed in full here: https://www.eirgridgroup.com/site-files/library/EirGrid/208281-All-Island-Generation-Capacity-Statement-LR13A.pdf
  4. According to an article published in the Sunday Business Post today, 29th September, the most recent data centre connection requests received by Eirgrid amount to 2,000 MW – more than double the 1,800MW worth of connection agreements already in place and could result in data centres accounting for over 40 per cent of peak demand by 2030. For more see: https://www.businesspost.ie/energy/electricity-system-is-stretched-beyond-capacity-eirgrid-to-warn-2b325ff4

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