Current approach to data centres is appropriate, Committee told

6 July 2021 

The Commission for Regulations of Utilities’ (CRU) current approach to data centres is the appropriate one, the Committee on Climate Action heard today. 

Representatives from the energy regulatory body came before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action today and were questioned at length about data centres and the potential climate and energy security risks they could pose. 

Data centres, which house computer systems and associated components, are anticipated to account for a significant portion of national electricity demand over the coming decade. 

By 2027, Eirgrid has estimated that data centres, alongside a small number of large industrial centres, will account for almost a third of national electricity demand. 

Most recently, The Irish Independent reported that Intel plans to increase the amount of power it uses at a County Kildare plant by fourfold. To date, the company’s operations uses the equivalent amount of power to Galway City. 

In response to a question from Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore, CRU Commissioner Jim Gannon said that at, “at the moment we feel the approach we’re taking to data centres is appropriate.” 

He related his assessment to the fact that new data centre connections to the national grid “would not happen for quite some time to come.” 

The CRU currently has a consultation set to close tomorrow on the matter of data centre grid connection which will inform policy on the issue going forward. 

When pressed on whether or not the body would call for a moratorium on data centres, Mr. Gannon said that the CRU has not called for such an action at the current moment. 

PSO & data centres

Additionally, around the issues of data centres, Sinn Fein Senator Lynn Boylan warned that energy levies may let “data centres off the hook” by allowing for households to subsidise the structures.  

Public Service Obligations (PSO) are levied against consumers according to their contribution to peak energy demand. Data centres, however, require massive steady energy needs, which do not contribute to peak demand.

Currently the PSO is determined by legislation, so there is not an ‘immediate ability to change’ according to CRU Chairperson Aoife MacEvilly.

She argued that the approach does not entirely let data centres off the hook, though ESRI research has suggested levying a higher proportion of fees on data centres. 

MacEvilly warns that this is an area to ‘tread very carefully’ in.

“Any change is likely to create winners and losers, even in the domestic sector,” she said.

The Committee also heard that gas will be “an essential transition fuel for Ireland” as it moves towards the Programme for Government goal of reducing emissions by 51 per cent by the end of the decade, according to Ms. MacEvilly.

The statement echoed previous testimony to Committee by Electricity Association of Ireland CEO Dara Lynott who recently told the Committee that gas will still “very much be a requirement” in Ireland’s energy mix up until 2030.

While it will be “used quite a bit less” it will nonetheless still be required, he added.

Story by Kayle Crosson and Sam Starkey