In an energy crisis, why is our government still engaging in data centers?


GOVERNMENT’S HEAD-IN-THE SAND approach to the proliferation of power-hungry data centers threatens our energy security, foreign investment, jobs and climate action goals. Why? We don’t know because the government hasn’t done even a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis.

What is the government’s policy on data centers? A 17-page document from 2018, titled Government Statement on the Role of Data Centers In Ireland’s Enterprise Strategy, comes closest to a political platform. In this shaky paper, the benefits of data centers are laid out at length – apparently all tech jobs created since 2010 are attributed to data center expansion.

The document states that data centers in Ireland ‘are increasing [the country’s] our visibility as an innovative and tech-rich economy ”and our“ ability to attract the next wave of data center investment will send a strong signal that Ireland remains an open, competitive, attractive and innovative economy in the world. ‘global scale’.

The difficult sale

This encouraging analysis is in total contradiction with the increasingly serious warnings from the national grid operator, Eirgrid, and the energy regulator, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), about the “unprecedented” growth of the energy demand of data centers. and the consequent danger of power outages.

The best-case scenario previously predicted that data centers would account for up to 33% of all our energy use by 2030. However, in June, Eirgrid warned that this could be a conservative estimate. He said he was dealing with so many connection requests from data centers that supplying them all would amount to 70% of national electricity consumption by 2030.

In a letter to CRU, Eirgrid Group Regulatory Chief Bill Thompson called for a nationwide debate on the “phenomenon” of data centers.

“Ireland’s power system was surely not intended to be, nor designed to be, a system that seeks to meet the needs of the global citizen for increased data supported by an increasing commercial, industrial and domestic load. smaller outside the data center, ”he said. noted.

Mr Thompson may have thought that the demand for a review of our permissive approach to data centers was an urgent imperative, but this sentiment was not shared by the government. Whenever I have raised my concerns to Dáil, about the increasingly worrying implications for our national network and our climate action goals of this increase in data centers, I am invariably told about all the jobs created. by Apple, Google and the other tech giants.

But how attractive will Ireland be to these companies if rising demand results in continuous and ongoing blackouts?

This is not a vain alarmist. It has been reported that Ireland could lose an € 80 billion investment from Intel due to concerns over the capacity of our energy infrastructure. Meanwhile, IDA Ireland has already warned that our energy supply crisis could “seriously damage the reputation of the country”. After all, it’s tough to market the country as a prime location for powered captains of industry when you can’t even guarantee you can keep the lights on.

In denial

What is most alarming in all of this is the government’s refusal to accept that there is a problem. His response, to the horrific warnings now coming from industry and environmentalists, can be summed up as “everything will be fine overnight”. His 2018 policy document contained perhaps the riskiest proposition to date: technology, which has yet to be invented, will solve the problem.

“Given the pace of technological advancements, there is also the potential for innovative solutions to improve energy efficiency and grid utilization over the next few years,” he said.

Remember, not too long ago, Brexiters were downright mocked for suggesting that the technology, which did not yet exist, would solve the intractable problems posed by the Irish border. Alarmingly, the government’s energy policy is reminiscent of the most egregious nonsense of Brexiter.

The government’s flippant attitude to this escalating crisis is bizarre and disconcerting. We are now facing a perfect storm when it comes to our energy supply. Soaring international natural gas prices have already pushed wholesale prices up to 250% this year, meaning consumer bills will rise to as much as € 500 this winter. Since Ireland is far from meeting our target of producing 70% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030, we are very vulnerable to these price shocks.

With the power needs of an average data center now on par with a small town like Kilkenny, we can’t continue to connect them to a nationwide grid that’s already creaking to the brim. At a minimum, we need the government to do cost-benefit analysis and research on the capacity of our energy infrastructure to cope.

A 2019 study by the Irish Academy of Engineers said an investment of € 9 billion in our energy infrastructure would be needed to support the proliferation of data centers. The government’s response to this research has been tumbleweed. He did not produce his own figure.

The government’s response to our energy crisis has been characterized by a lack of strategic thinking, ambition and planning. Its head has been firmly rooted in the sand for quite a long time. That is why the Social Democrats are presenting tomorrow in Dáil a motion calling for a moratorium on data centers.

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We are not opposed to data centers, but we want a pause in their development until the government can provide us with some pretty basic information: what are the implications of their continued growth; How can our energy infrastructure cope with the increased demand made necessary by data centers and how can we meet our climate action goals given the huge increase in energy demand?

It doesn’t seem like much to ask.

Jennifer Whitmore TD is a TD of the Social Democrats for Wicklow and the party spokesperson on climate action and biodiversity.


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