Data Centres - An Taisce's Response 2018

28th January 2019
Report

The annual growth in the storage of electronic data is a major global climate and energy consumption issue. To date 5 planning applications have come before An Taisce for our observations. Our response is outlined below.

A recent statement from the Government[1] opened on “Ireland’s ambition to be a digital economy hot-spot in Europe.” and the contribution of data centres to job creation “and support activities in locations with no physical/geographic connection to the data centre.”

However it was also acknowledged that, “as large consumers of electricity, data centres also pose particular challenges to the future planning and operation of a sustainable power system”.

The main focus of the policy is to “align enterprise electricity demand with generation capacity and transmission planning "with data centre development in regional locations outside Dublin The strategy proposes“ A plan-led approach to develop a range of measures to promote regional options for data centre investment, minimising the need for additional grid infrastructure.

AN TAISCE’S SUBMISSIONS

The document proposes that data centres above a particular threshold will be reclassified as strategic infrastructure development and Government was also reassessing judicial review timelines on planning decisions. Meanwhile An Taisce has had 5 applications before it in recent times and has made a number of submissions. These focus on the mitigation that is required to take account of the climate emissions arising from the electricity use required if we are to heed:

  1. The objectives of the Climate and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, which incorporates the principle of “Climate Justice”.
    No explicit consideration is given in the government’s statement to the meeting of Climate targets with data centres described as having a “desire” for “green” electricity, rather than it being a mandatory requirement, and that a policy of promoting data centres ”could” increase the pace of renewable transition without any provision being put place to require energy sourcing of new data centres to be sourced entirely from new renewable capacity.

  2. The equitable per capita carbon budget for a developed nation.
    The benefit of net emission reduction in Ireland’s 2020 target of 40% renewable electricity generation is being undermined by rising energy demand, as the effectiveness of a percentage based target is diminished by rising consumption, including the increasing development of Data Centres.

The sustainability of any new data centre can only be achieved, either by direct renewable energy on site or off site with dedicated grid connection, or a dedicated renewable addition to the grid to at least the level of the total annual generating capacity required by the development.

An Taisce recommends that information always be sought on the level of energy use required to serve the proposed development,
the specific sourcing for the proposed energy use, and the measures proposed to ensure that the project will not create any increase in electricity generation causing greenhouse gas emissions. 


THE LESSON FROM DENMARK

Denmark is has been a European leader in renewable electricity generation over the last two decades. However the active promotion of data centres is now undermining its renewable energy targets.

Current data centre development in Denmark which will be accelerated over the next decade is projected to increase emission by 10% to 2030 https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/news/data-centers-will-increase-denmarks-carbon-footprint/

If data center energy consumers either seek or are required to be sourced from renewable energy sources, this undermines the availability of increased renewables for existing electrify consumption in a constrained supply market. An increase in renewable use in the existing electricity market is already needed for the greater 2030 decarbonization targets to be met . Denmark has not put in place the scale of measures needed combine the achieving of this combined with new data center demand, or even demonstrate that there is viable capacity in additional wind generation to do so.

Note 1. https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Government-Statement-Data-Centres-Enterprise-Strategy.html