The Dáil is debating a motion calling for a moratorium on new data centres, amid fears Ireland is facing power outages this winter due to a squeeze on energy supplies.
Data centres currently use about 10 per cent of the country's electricity output, with an estimate that this could rise to 70 per cent by 2030 if all planning permissions for new centres go ahead.
The national electricity grid operator warned on Wednesday that the State may face an electricity shortfall over the next five winters unless it boosts supply to meet an unusual surge in demand, primarily driven by power-hungry data centres.
Ireland, which experienced record electricity demand last winter, is set to see demand over the next decade jump by between 28 per cent in a median scenario and 43 per cent if demand is higher, the grid operator, EirGrid, forecast.
Ireland's increase will be driven by expanding large energy users, especially data centres, it said. Ireland is one Europe's largest data-centre hubs with Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook all storing data in a country where they are also among some of the largest employers.
Data centre capital
Minister Eamon Ryan this morning said the Government cannot be “absolutely certain” there will be no blackouts this winter but expressed confidence in additional back-up power supplies.
The Social Democrats brought forward the motion, supported by Sinn Féin and others, to ban new centres, with the party’s co-leader Roisin Shortall saying Dublin was already the data centre capital of Europe.
“There has been a proliferation of data centres, there’s now about 70 of them nationally, and 54 of those are in Dublin, and that makes Dublin the largest data centre hub in in Europe, incredibly,” she said.
“What’s happened as a result of this is that our electricity supply, which is already very insecure, is going to be threatened even further.”
Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore accused Ministers of backing the needs of business over the Irish people.
“The Social Democrats are not opposed to data centres, but we do want a pause on their development until the Government can tell us some pretty basic information,” she said.
“What are the implications of their continued growth? How can our energy infrastructure cope with the increased demand necessitated by data centres? And how can we reach our climate action targets, given the huge surge in energy demand?”
Lights on in January?
The Government is opposing any moratorium on development, describing it as a blunt instrument.
Asked if the lights would stay on in January by Labour leader Alan Kelly, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “That’s the dramatic statement, you know, will the lights be on or off?
“The basic pragmatic response to any short-term problems that arise will be demand management, so working with large energy users who have their own backup power supply.”
Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd said the proposal by Opposition parties to stop building data centres is “non-sensical, out of touch and hypocritical.”
“To combat climate change we need to be online more, operate in a more digital manner, ensure there is less driving and less emissions. What allows this? Data centres,” he said.
“Virtually everything people do in their daily lives has a basis in cloud computing: if you watch Netflix, pay by card, use virtually any app on your phone: it’s all cloud based.
“The backup systems for your phone and computer live in the cloud. Our world and economy functions on the cloud. The Social Democrats hypocritical attitude to cloud storage is a lot like their hypocritical attitude to housing: ‘build it somewhere else please’.
“Even today, they share content from today’s Dáil debate online on social media sites which are processed by cloud-based servers.
“Data centres enable investment, employment, remote working and allow people the possibility to live and work in the communities where they were raised.”