The Government Statement on the role of data centres in Ireland's Enterprise Strategy (2018) recognises that a plan-led approach is needed to develop a range of measures to promote regional options for data centre investment thus minimising the need for additional grid infrastructure. My Department is engaged on this issue with the Department Enterprise, Trade and Employment in preparation for the Climate Action Plan 2021.
From an environmental perspective the impact of data centres on Ireland’s energy demand, and therefore emissions in the electricity sector, is significant. However, this must be balanced with the role of data centres as part of the digital and communications infrastructure for many sectors of our economy.
In March 2021, EirGrid launched a consultation on the future development and operation of the electricity system called ‘Shaping our Electricity Future’. This body of work centres on how the electricity system will be transformed over the coming decade catering for both increased demand and a transition to at least 70% renewable electricity by 2030. The assumed demand composition and how it is likely to change between 2020 and 2030 is informed by EirGrid’s ‘Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios’ report and is consistent with the figures in the latest ‘Generation Capacity Statement’. This includes a projection that the total electricity requirement for Large Energy Users, including data centres, will more than double by 2030 compared to 2020 figures.
The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) and EirGrid are progressing actions to ensure continued secure supplies of electricity, including increasing the availability of existing generators, the development of new generation capacity and changes to the grid connection of data centres, while at the same time allowing us to meet our climate change targets. There have been numerous engagements between the CRU and EirGrid on the implications for the national grid driven by data centres and the major challenges associated with the high levels of data centre development anticipated over the coming years.
On 8 June 2021, the CRU published their proposed direction to the system operators related to data centre grid connection. The purpose of the paper was to outline for consultation the proposed criteria against which the system operators would continue to process and connect data centres to the grid, in order to mitigate some of this risk. This paper details that some form of intervention is necessary at this stage to maintain the security of the electricity system and to mitigate against the impact of data centres on the national grid. This consultation process is now closed and the CRU is reviewing and evaluating responses with a view to ensuring we will be able to meet our decarbonization objectives, maintain a secure supply of electricity and meet our enterprise goals.