Data Centers Are Pushing Ireland’s Electric Grid To the Brink

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Behind every TikTok, Zoom call, and cat meme is a data center that stores, processes, or reroutes that data around the world. The more we do online, the bigger these data centers and their energy footprint get. At full capacity, servers within a modern "hyperscale" (aka "massive") data center can use as much power as 80,000 households. Although the data center industry is global, places with the right combination of stable climate and friendly regulations attract outsized attention from data center developers. Ireland is one of these places. The island nation hosts 70 data centers and is now the fastest-growing data center market in Europe. Unfortunately, supplying the equivalent of several extra cities worth of electricity to servers that aid your doomscrolling is starting to take a toll on Ireland's power grid. Data centers already use around 900 megawatts of electricity in Ireland. According to Paul Deane, an energy researcher working with the MaREI Environmental Research Institute in Ireland, this adds up to at least 11% of Ireland's total electricity supply at present, a situation he described "as a serious energy systems problem." As Deane outlined, meeting this demand is making Ireland's current energy crisis worse and its target of halving greenhouse emissions by 2030 harder to reach. And things are only getting more challenging. A recent report from Eirgrid, Ireland's state-owned grid operator, shows that data centers will consume almost 30% (PDF) of Ireland's annual electricity supply by 2029. Although, as Deane pointed out, data centers are essential to modern life, a small country with little grid power to spare hosting so many of them puts the sustainability of Ireland's entire power supply at risk. Deane summed up Ireland's issue with data centers as being a mismatch in size. "Data centers are large power users, and our power system is small, so plugging more of them into a small grid will start to have an outsized impact," he said. In stark comparison, Germany, the EU's biggest data center market overall, will use less than 5% of its grid capacity to power data centers in the same period. As well as stoking fears that the industry's growth will create blackouts and power shortages for Irish consumers this winter, data centers may also derail Ireland's drive to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

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