I propose to take Questions Nos. 87, 88, 103, 148 and 152 together.
The Government Statement on the Role of Data Centres in Ireland's Enterprise Strategy (2018) acknowledges the role of data centres as part of the digital and communications infrastructure for many sectors of our economy. The statement also notes that data centres pose considerable challenges to the future planning and operation of Ireland’s power system.
EirGrid, Ireland's electricity transmission system operator, and Gas Networks Ireland, Ireland's natural gas transmission system operator, publish regular projections of electricity and natural gas demand which include the impact of data centres on the demand growth in both sectors. The gas demand projections include provision for electricity growth as a whole but do not differentiate between the sub-sectors of electricity demand.
The Commission for Regulation of Utilities has statutory responsibility, under S.I. 60 of 2005, to monitor security of supply of electricity and to take such measures as it considers necessary to protect security of supply. On 8 June 2021, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities published a proposed direction related to data centre grid connections. This direction proposes to prioritise the processing of data centre applications to connect to the electricity grid based on a number of criteria which are focused on security of supply. These criteria include location relative to grid constraints, ability to provide onsite dispatchable generation and/or storage and the ability reduce consumption when requested by the system operator. A public consultation on this direction closed on the 7 July 2021.
In addition, my Department is carrying out a review of the security of energy supply of Ireland’s electricity and natural gas systems which is focusing on the period to 2030 in the context of ensuring a sustainable pathway to net zero emissions by 2050. The review is considering the impact of increased electricity demand, including from data centres.
The Programme for Government commits to developing efficiency standards for equipment and processes, particularly those set to grow rapidly, such as data centres. Earlier this year, the European Commission adopted Shaping Europe's Digital Future, which includes an objective to foster an open, democratic and sustainable society. Key actions include initiatives to achieve climate-neutral, highly energy efficient and sustainable data centres by no later than 2030. The EU Ecodesign Regulation on servers and data storage products sets minimum standards around the environmental impact of these products and requires that circular economy principles will be mandatory for suppliers of this type of equipment, from next year.
My Department is also evaluating policies to encourage the development of renewable energy projects by the data centre sector to meet their own demand and to contribute to the target set out in the Climate Action Plan of meeting 15% of electricity demand through Corporate Power Purchase Agreements by 2030. The SEAI launched a public consultation on policy options for meeting the target, which closed on 14 April 2021. Based on the consultation feedback and other considerations, a recommendations paper on a roadmap for Corporate Power Purchase Agreements will be developed later in 2021. We have seen recently a number of unsubsidized Corporate Power Purchase Agreements, purchased by data centre operators, in the Irish market and I hope we can encourage more.