Data centers now consume more electricity than rural homes

Data center electricity consumption increased by almost a third in just one year, according to new figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The latest statistics show that data centers consumed a greater share of the electricity consumption than rural households in the state last year.

The total proportion of metered electricity consumed by data centers has nearly tripled in just six years, from 5% in 2015 to 14% last year.

By comparison, urban households accounted for 21 percent of metered electricity consumed in 2021 compared to 12 percent consumed by rural households.

The figure for electricity consumption by data centers last year represents a 32 percent increase in that year.

Data centers consumed 265% more electricity in the three-month period between October and December 2021 compared to the three months between January and March 2015.

Total metered electricity consumption increased 16 percent over the six years, with data centers accounting for 70 percent of the increase in consumption over that period.

“The increase in consumption was driven by a combination of existing data centers using more electricity and new data centers being added to the grid,” said Niamh Shanahan, a statistician in the CSO environment and climate division.

Surge

The increased use of electricity by data centers has come under scrutiny due to concerns about the state’s power supply and targeted reduction of carbon emissions to address climate change.

Last November, the state’s energy regulator, the Public Services Regulatory Commission, ruled against a moratorium on connecting new data centers to the national grid, but reserved the right to impose one in the future if it considers it necessary to “protect security of supply”.

The regulator said there was a “significant and evolving risk” to the security of power supply in the state and that a “significant contributing factor” to this risk was the growth of data centers.

Eirgrid, the state’s power grid operator, has said electricity use by data centers could rise to between 23% and 30% of total consumption by the end of this decade.

The operator has said that it will not connect any new data centers in Dublin for the foreseeable future because the power supply in the greater Dublin area is limited.

The most recent data from CSO, the second set of statistics published on data center electricity consumption, shows that quarterly data center consumption has increased dramatically over the past six years.

Electricity consumption measured by data centers increased from 290 gigawatt hours in the period from January to March 2015 to 1,058 in October to December 2021.

One gigawatt of power is enough electricity to supply more than 500,000 homes.

Large energy users that consume large amounts of electricity accounted for 23% of total metered consumption in 2021. Overall, electricity consumption increased 5% last year.

The CSO began collecting and publishing data on electricity consumption in January.

Data centers use a considerably higher proportion of electricity in the state than in other countries. A 2020 European Commission put average data center usage in 2018 at 2.7 percent of electricity demand, compared to 14 percent in Ireland.

Moratorium

Dr. Patrick Bresnihan, a geography professor at Maynooth University, said further increases in electricity use by data centers should spark a debate over whether the government should block the opening of more centers to reduce emissions. in light of recent warnings about climate change. .

“There should be more discussion and more serious consideration of a moratorium,” he said.

“I know that Eirgrid has announced a de facto moratorium on data centers in the Dublin region, but the emphasis is on security of supply; it’s not about the overall emissions and power consumption of data centers.”

Allowing data center electricity consumption to continue to rise would make it harder for the government to push through policies asking people to reduce consumption at a time “when data center consumption is so high and clearly growing,” said Dr. Bresnihan.

The most recent data from the OSC gives “statistical credence to people’s informal sense that there is some kind of unfairness or unfairness here,” he said.

People would see an “inequality” in calls for “climate justice” where they are asked to shift their consumption while data center electricity consumption is allowed to rise.

“People aren’t going to buy it, so it’s not good for climate action,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Climate and Communications said the Government was undertaking a review of its data center strategy to ensure that any increase in their number could only occur in line with “sectoral emissions ceilings and targets”. of renewable energy”.

He said the review, announced late last year, was expected to be completed by the end of June.

He also noted that the Government’s National Energy Security Framework, published last month, will aim to ensure the review sets policy direction for data centers to reduce their load on the national power grid and provide demand flexibility in Rush hours.

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