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Data centres' electricity consumption has more than doubled since 2015

The impact of data centres on the grid has come under scrutiny amid concerns about emissions reductions and energy supply.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

ELECTRICITY CONSUMPTION BY data centres has more than doubled since 2015, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

Between 2015 and 2020, data centres’ consumption of electricity in Ireland increased by 144%.

Additionally, the proportion of Ireland’s total metered electricity used by data centres more than doubled between 2015 and 2020, rising from 5% to 11% – an increase of 1,783 Gigawatt hours.

For the first time, the CSO has published a report on electricity consumption by data centres.

Amid concerns about Ireland’s energy supply and efforts to reduce emissions, the impact of large-energy users like data centres on the grid has come under scrutiny.

Late last year, Ireland’s energy regulator decided against a moratorium on new data centres connecting to the national grid, but said it reserved the right to implement one if it deems it a necessary move to “protect security of supply”.

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The CSO report released today shows that in the first quarter of 2015, data centres consumed 290 Gigawatt hours of metered electricity.

In the last three months of 2020, they consumed 849 Gigawatt hours – a 193% increase, or almost triple.  

Data centres’ share of metered electricity in 2020 was almost as large as consumption by rural homes, which accounted for 12%. Urban dwellings used 22%.

Overall, consumption in Ireland rose by 10%, or 2,546 Gigawatt hours, between 2015 and 2020.

data centres 2015 to 2020 Source: CSO

Statistician in the CSO’s Environment and Climate Division Niamh Shanahan said: “The increase in consumption was driven by a combination of existing data centres using more electricity and new data centres being added to the grid.”

“This is the first time the CSO has published figures on electricity consumption by data centres. The report shows the total metered electricity consumption by data centres by quarter for the period 2015 to 2020,” she said.

Shanahan said that “data centre consumption increased from 290 Gigawatt hours in January to March 2015 to 849 GWh in October to December 2020″ and that the data “shows a steady increase from quarter to quarter”.

‘Unlike anything Ireland has seen in 100 years’

In October, an Oireachtas Committee heard that it “would not be prudent” to expand electricity demand with further large energy users.

DCU Professor Barry McMullin told the Committee that it will be essential to “minimise society-wide energy demand for at least the next two decades” to significantly reduce fossil fuel use and emissions. 

He said it “would not be prudent to continue expanding our electricity demand with further large users such as data centres”.

Aoife MacEvilly, Chairperson of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, said that “on the topic of data centres, electricity demand growth from this sector is unlike anything Ireland has seen in the past 100 years”.

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“At present, this demand is connecting to the grid more quickly and easily than it has proven possible to deliver the supporting transmission and generation infrastructure.” 

In 2020, an EirGrid report outlined that data centres and other large energy users could account for 27% of Ireland’s energy consumption by 2030.

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Lauren Boland

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