The following blog post was written by IES' Saeed Misaghian, Senior Research Consultant and Giovanni Tardioli, Senior Research Lead.
In the digital era, data has emerged as the lifeblood of our modern society. From the rapid growth of cloud computing to the proliferation of online services, data fuels every aspect of our interconnected world. Behind the scenes, data centres stand as the critical infrastructure supporting this ever-expanding ecosystem. In the context of Ireland, these technological powerhouses have become increasingly prominent, propelling the nation into the forefront of the global digital economy.
Today, Ireland stands as a data centre powerhouse, hosting an extensive network of facilities operated by both domestic and international companies. These data centres not only cater to the needs of Irish businesses but also serve as major hubs for global connectivity. The presence of multinational corporations has not only boosted the Irish economy but has also enhanced the nation's position as a leading technology and innovation hub in Europe.
In a recent report by the Central Statistics Office Ireland, we gained insights into the remarkable expansion of data centres and their significant electricity consumption from 2015 to 2022. Now, you might be wondering, why is this important? Well, data centres play a crucial role in our society and economy, but we also need to ensure they are environmentally friendly. Let's dive into the numbers!
Between 2015 and 2022, the electricity consumption of data centres in Ireland skyrocketed by a staggering 400%. Yes, you read that right, it's a monumental leap! And here's the kicker – they just keep growing! In the span of a single year, from 2021 to 2022, there was a substantial 31% increase in their power usage. To put it in perspective, the electricity consumed by Irish data centres in 2022 alone was equivalent to what ~1.250 million residential homes would typically use1. That's a big number, isn't it?
Now, while we're not implying that data centres are jeopardising anything, it's essential to consider their environmental impact. With such a surge in energy consumption, questions naturally arise about the pollution caused by these facilities in Ireland. Are we compromising our sustainability goals?
Let's take a moment to visualise the remarkable growth of data centres in Ireland from 2015 to 2022. The figures below paint a vivid picture of their increasing consumption throughout the four quarters of each year. And to make things even simpler, we'll also present pie charts for the years 2015, 2021, and 2022. Brace yourself, because these visuals truly highlight the speed at which data centres are flourishing in this green land!
As you can see, the graph illustrates a remarkable upward trend. With each passing year, data centres in Ireland have been consuming more and more electricity, propelling their growth to new heights. It's as clear as day that the demand for their services is skyrocketing.
But let's zoom in for a closer look at the pie charts for 2015, 2021, and 2022. These visual representations provide a snapshot of the energy consumption distribution among different sectors during those specific years.
In the pie chart for 2015, the portion allocated to data centres might seem relatively small. However, fast forward to 2021, and you'll notice a considerable increase in their share of the energy consumption pie. By 2022, data centres have claimed an even larger slice, reflecting their substantial growth and influence in the energy landscape of Ireland.
Examining the growth of data centres in Ireland raises important questions about the impact on other sectors. In the figure below, you'll notice the blue section representing other sectors, remaining relatively stable around 23,000 to 24,000 GWh. However, the red portion, symbolizing data centres’ energy consumption, stands out significantly. This raises concerns about changes in Ireland's electricity usage profile and the sustainability of the nation.
The dominance of data centres is evident, and their increasing energy demand has likely led to noticeable shifts in Ireland's overall electricity usage. Looking to the future, it remains uncertain how these changes will unfold. However, some companies are taking steps to address environmental concerns. For instance, Microsoft implemented demand response initiatives in Ireland to become more environmentally friendly.
At IES, we take pride in offering a wide range of services dedicated to helping data centre owners and managers to operate their facilities as energy efficient as possible. We have the capability to monitor carbon and energy data in select regions, including the UK and Ireland. Leveraging our software, we construct physics-based models of your data centres to assess their performance and ensure calibration. Additionally, we create AI-based models because while physics-based models are reasonably accurate, they may not be fast enough.
Our ultimate goal is to provide you with detailed insights into your data centre operations. We assist you in avoiding peak energy and carbon periods by optimizing your IT workloads and securely managing your cooling systems. We may also advise you on the utilization of your UPS systems or on-site generation, if available.
We firmly believe in our responsibility to work on the cutting edge of technology, striving for a better future for our children. While we admire the power of AI, it's crucial to take actions that align AI with sustainable development goals. At IES, we are dedicated to leveraging technology to decarbonise our built environment and create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly world.
In our recent research collaboration with the University College Dublin's UDC Energy Institute, we conducted in-depth analyses on harnessing data centres as a source of flexibility in Ireland's power system. Through careful examination of six different scenarios, we uncovered intriguing findings.
One notable discovery was that, on average, the Irish load profile exhibited a 24.5% flatter profile compared to the base scenario, where data centres lacked flexibility. Furthermore, for a single day, we observed a 1.5% reduction in operational costs and a 1.7% decrease in curtailing wind power.
During peak CO2 hours, for the 100% Flex scenario, utilising data centre UPS/battery storage systems, we achieved an 8% reduction, highlighting the significant potential for environmental impact.
While we won't delve into technical details here, if you're eager to learn more, we invite you to read our full paper. It offers a comprehensive exploration of our research, shedding light on the remarkable role data centres can play in providing flexibility.
1 Data centres used 5,252 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in Ireland for the year 2022. The average annual electricity consumption per household in Ireland is assumed to be 4,200 kilowatt-hours (kWh).