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CSO revealed that Ireland’s 75 data centres consumed nearly a fifth of the country’s electricity supply in 2022

As more information about the true effect of data centres surfaces, two decades of government judgements concerning the placement and usefulness of big computing warehouses look shortsighted.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said that Ireland’s 75 data centres will consume roughly a fifth of the country’s electrical supply in 2022, mirroring the electricity used by the whole Irish urban residential population and representing a 30% increase over 2021. In 2015, the centres consumed 5%.

That’s a 400% increase in less than a decade, despite repeated warnings from experts and national grid operator EirGrid about increasing demand on the national grid, notably from data centres. Because a big centre may power tens to hundreds of thousands of computer servers, which also require air conditioning to avoid overheating, centres consume a lot of energy. The centres also consume a lot of water. Large urban areas have the energy and water requirements of a small metropolis.

With 30 additional centres planned and eight under construction, the industry is set to outperform EirGrid’s projection that data centre power use may grow to between 23 and 30% of total national demand by the end of the decade.

Although EirGrid has issued a temporary moratorium on new centres in the saturated Dublin region, forcing these venues to relocate would not address the fundamental electrical supply issues. And the government reiterated that it would not limit the sector’s expansion.

Ireland requires data centres to offer crucial data storage and administration for domestic and corporate customers, as well as for technology multinationals’ international operations. Allowing uncontrolled expansion, on the other hand, is giving in to the sector and Ireland’s corporations, even while the grid struggles and Ireland fails to achieve its climate promises.

Ministers this week spoke about data centres supporting economic development and said that they would become greener. However, such claims are mostly based on essentially unverifiable information from one of the most secretive areas of technology. Journalists and citizen organisations throughout the world have had to go to court to push officials and data centre businesses to reveal the truth about planning permissions and massive energy and water use.

There is no green energy option in sight. Wind accounts for the majority of Ireland’s renewable energy, and this week’s amber energy alert serves as a reminder that wind energy evaporates on windless days. Alternatives like offshore wind and wave energy will take years to develop.

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