Why Irish data centre boom is complicating climate efforts

(The Guardian, 6 Jan 2020) Surge in processing industry will increase Ireland’s already too high carbon emissions.

Inside Digital Realty’s Dublin data centre, racks of shiny black servers throb and whirr as unseen fans cool machines that steadily process unending data.

It operates 24 hours a day from the business park, sited on a former orchard, and the data joins a digital torrent in an underground fibre ring network that sweeps around the Irish capital and connects to undersea cables – the physical backbones of the digital world.

It is not just for Ireland. This is also how the UK and continental Europe accesses a lot of email, social media, online shopping, Netflix and other internet services. “Everything with the word smart in front of it has a data centre behind it,” said Ben Bryan, Digital Realty’s technical operations manager in Dublin.

But there is a catch. The surge in Irish data processing will require significant new energy infrastructure and increase emissions, complicating Ireland’s response to the climate crisis. The cloud can create carbon: it is estimated that when the music video Despacito reached 5bn streamed YouTube views in 2018, the energy consumption was equivalent to powering 40,000 US homes a year (it has now exceeded 6.5bn views).

By 2028 data centres and other large users will consume 29% of Ireland’s electricity, according to EirGrid, Ireland’s state-owned transmission system operator. Worldwide data centres consume about 2% of electricity, a figure set to reach 8% by 2030. Few countries, if any, will match Ireland’s level.

It is already Europe’s data centre capital, with Amazon, Google and Microsoft siting operations there. Dozens of centres have opened in recent years, bringing the total to 54, with a combined power capacity of 642MW. Once a leading exporter of floppy discs and CD-Roms, Ireland has successfully transitioned to the big data era.

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The Guardian, 6 Jan 2020: Why Irish data centre boom is complicating climate efforts