back to article Datacenters in Ireland draw more power than all rural homes put together

Datacenter energy use has eclipsed power consumption among all rural homes in Ireland, according to figures from the country's Central Statistics Office (CSO). The trend is set to continue if 2020-2021 data holds with datacenter power draw growing by nearly one-third between 2020 and 2021. Aerial view of small town Cashel in …

  1. deadlockvictim

    The best little country in the world to do business

    Well, Ireland is the best little country in the world to do business.

    We'll foot the bill of your unsecured loans should the world economy collapse, fight the EU Commission on your behalf, build more windmills in the sea so that ye can brag to your addicts that they are green and so on. And still the US multinationals do more for Irish prosperity than German & Dutch banks.

    Ah, Ireland, ye dumped one waning superpower one hundred years ago only to jump into bed with another 50 years ago. A nation once again, wah?

    I wonder if those that data-centres would keep the homeless population warm?

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      "I wonder if those that data-centres would keep the homeless population warm?"

      Why would they want to do that? The homeless are happy sleeping in the doorways of flats owned by Google who keep them permanently empty.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        I'm confused can you please restate that in a way which blames the English?

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: The best little country in the world to do business

      On the plus side, all those datacentre roof-tops available for photovoltaic installations (albeit with somewhat less sunshine than Southern California)

      I'm getting my brolly...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: The best little country in the world to do business

        Or possibly more effective micro hydroelectric system in the roof drains

  2. nijam Silver badge

    > Datacenters in Ireland draw more power than all rural homes put together

    So? Would it be cheaper/use less power/cause less media hysteria/whaterver if the dataprocessing were shipped back on-prem?

    1. Kristian Walsh

      It would be a massive reduction for Ireland, given that so much of the DC equipment located in Ireland is providing services for EU and global customers.

      The uptick in demand is one of the knock-on factors of Brexit. EU customers want their data-processing to be carried out within the EU. Most of the transatlantic fiber makes landfall in the British Isles, but with the UK now outside the EU, Ireland has become a preferred location, despite its thorny planning process.

      The usual suspects will say this is all about tax rates of course, but datacenters are cost-centres, and their location has nothing to do with where profits are booked. Amazon, for instance, located is first AWS Europe region in Dublin, but it has no business operations in Ireland at all: even its shop website is a redirect to amazon.co.uk. Amazon’s European operations are run by a Luxembourg company.

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Most countries require foreign companies that trade in their country to pay tax on the resulting profits.

        Ireland is one of those countries, and the corporation tax rate of 12.5% is quite a bit lower than the 24.94% rate levied in Luxembourg.

        But Ireland is also very generous in the expenses they allow you to deduct from your income, so it is 12.5% of a somewhat lower headline profit than in other countries.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        >but datacenters are cost-centres, and their location

        But AWS is their only profit center. It's easy to claim the macbook sold on Oxford st was really sold in Dublin.

        Harder to claim the data in an AWS bit farm is in Ireland for GDPR but in the Cayman islands for tax

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          They don't claim the MacBook was sold in Dublin, they claim that it was bought in Cork (Apple Distribution International) rather than from Foxconn in Shenzhen.

      3. Rufus McDufus

        Though Amazon first set up a European datacentre in Ireland in 2005, before Brexit was a twinkle in the eye. They did it for tax reasons. I worked for them and on it.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      >Datacenters in Ireland draw more power than all rural homes put together

      So Ireland is now a developed country rather than a rural backwater?

    3. jmch Silver badge

      > Datacenters in Ireland draw more power than all rural homes put together

      Based on the data presented that's hardly headline news:

      Urban - 21%

      Datacenters - 14%

      Rural - 14%

      I have to presume that the remaining 53% is industrial consumption, and datacenters really should be classed as industrial. It should be normal that in the digital age, the %age of industrial consumption that is digital rather than manufacturing etc will increase. It's long been the case pretty much everywhere that industrial / business consumption is much higher than domestic - it's why they get special rates.

      This is maybe more significant:

      "total metered electricity consumption in Ireland increased by 16 percent, or 3,906 gigawatt hours, between 2015 and 2021, while the quarterly metered electricity consumption by datacenters alone has risen steadily from 290 gigawatt hours in the first quarter of 2015 to 1,058 gigawatt hours in the fourth quarter of 2021."

      yearly increase (assuming quarterly increase X 4 is a fair approximation) is 3072 GWh out of 3906GWh total increase

  3. TimMaher Silver badge
    Coat

    Tax Haven

    Nuff said.

    Mine's the one with the four leaf clover in one pocket and the roll of bank notes in the other.

    1. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: Tax Haven

      Good. The world needs more tax havens.

  4. John Robson Silver badge

    So 35% of elec is residential

    ...and of the remaining 65% the data centre businesses use less than a quarter of all the non residential electricity.

    1. General Purpose Silver badge

      Re: So 35% of elec is residential

      33% is residential use (21% urban, 12% rural), 14% is used by data centres (CSO infographic). It is quite extraordinary that a single new activity accounts for over 20% of Ireland's non residential usage, especially when that consumption isn't associated with high employment (though "the largest data centres have parent enterprises with high employment levels in Ireland" (CSO background notes) eg Google with 6,500 employees a year ago, Amazon with about 5,000 permanent employees now).

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: So 35% of elec is residential

        Is it really that extraordinary?

        Any new industry has the capacity to grow to use a significant proportion of the available energy supply in an area. It's what happens with new industries - and data centres are heavy on the electricity, and don't consume much "other" power, at least assuming they are built to use "waste" heat on site.

        What's perhaps more surprising is that in 2018 (last figures I can see on the CSO site) businesses' electricity usage was only ~30% of their total energy consumption.

        If we assume that data centres are much closer to completely electrically driven then their 20% suddenly becomes 7-8%, and immediately becomes much less headline worthy.

        I don't have 2021 figures (because I can't find them), but in the decade leading up to 2018 electricity usage (by businesses) rose by ~20%, compared with a their total energy usage increasing by ~23%. Again assuming that data centres are heavy on the electrical side... they've not made a dent in the energy balance.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. General Purpose Silver badge

          Re: So 35% of elec is residential

          We might not be comparing like with like, but even accepting your assumptions, I'd call taking up 7-8% of the entire energy usage of a country's businesses a very sizeable dent, and 14% of a whole country's electricity demand is an even more sizeable dent for that country's electricity provision.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: So 35% of elec is residential

            Again - not convinced it's that unusual.

            We're not saying "<tech giant Q> used 14% of a country's electricity", but that a whole sector, which the country has heavily encouraged, is using that much energy.

            What's the largest non data centre industrial segment in terms of electricity usage? (I don't know, it's not broken out anywhere that I've seen).

            In terms of energy usage the road haulage industry uses 15% of all energy, air transport takes 21%...

            Between 2005 and 2019 (again, last figures I can see) services gradually increased their share of electricity consumption from 35.3% to 42.9%.

            Most of the data centres also probably came with investment towards renewable generation, allowing coal plants to be retired. Between 2016 and 2019 there was a massive drop in the amount of coal being used to generate electricity and a substantial increase in renewables. (84% and 54% respectively, though coal has clearly been on the way out for a while)

            Is it an industry that uses a lot of electricity? Yes

            Is that surprising? I don't think so. It's long been known that cooling and power are two of the most expensive things to deal with when running computers (at least when running lots of them).

            Interestingly the CSO publish "energy use per employee" broken down by sector, and that's been remarkably stable for "services and public sector" - suggesting that even as data centres are using significant amounts of electricity they are also employing a proportional number of residents.

            Do they use 14% of the electricity on the island, I can well believe it. I just don't think it's particularly shocking.

            1. General Purpose Silver badge

              Re: So 35% of elec is residential

              Has Ireland encouraged the growth of data centres, or do you mean the ICT sector more generally?

              You think "most of the data centres also probably came with investment towards renewable generation" but was that really the case? A policy of only buying renewable energy (or trying to) isn't investment. Instead, we see Ireland's Commission for Regulation of Utilities moving to tighten up regulation in 2021 because ""“continuing to allow data centres to connect to the electricity network in accordance with current arrangements” would present a risk to the security of electricity supply in Ireland." https://www.pinsentmasons.com/out-law/news/ireland-tightens-regulation-of-data-centre-grid-connections

              The full CRU direction notes that "The rate at which data centres are seeking to grow their load is unprecedented in Ireland" and that it's forecast to continue at that rate. The direction establishes assessment criteria that include "The ability of the data centre applicant to bring onsite dispatchable generation (and/or storage) equivalent to or greater than their demand" which as noted in the report section, presents its own problems as likely fossil-fuel based until eg hydrogen generation matures. There's no suggestion that data-centres have been mitigating their impact by investing in renewable generation. https://www.cru.ie/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/CRU21124-CRU-Direction-to-the-System-Operators-related-to-Data-Centre-grid-connection-processing.pdf

              1. John Robson Silver badge

                Re: So 35% of elec is residential

                ICT generally, but also the tech giants more specifically.

                The CRU notes are significant (and different from the original news), and suggest that the DC owners aren't actually doing as much as they generally crow about in terms of managing electricity supply (no great surprise, but I had been expecting the financial advantages to be more encouragement for them).

      2. Max Pyat

        Re: So 35% of elec is residential

        There's also a feature that the datacentre development has made grid capacity for other businesses much harder to obtain (that ranging from smaller businesses like creameries, food production, through to pharma/biotech etc., hotels, large residential builds, electric transport infrastructure (EV charging, elec rail)). At distribution level, 20-30 years of projected capacity was devoured in just 2 or 3.

        Just getting a grid connection has become much more difficult because of the data-centre build-out (And the data-centres are per MW relatively low on jobs and other knock-on benefits)

        Also worth noting is that while the datacentre secures a grid connection at the start, its energy use typically ramps from 0 to full capacity over a period of several years. My understanding is that each server hall within the centre is first fitted out with resistive loads at full consumption so that the auxillary and cooling systems can be tested, then the heaters are removed, and the hall is progressively filled with servers at a fairly linear rate until fully occupied in (IIRC) 5 years or so.

        This means that any projects completed within the last year or two are only contributing a fraction of the consumption that they will eventually contribute.

    2. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: So 35% of elec is residential

      It’s rather a meaningless broad-brush sound bite as in Southern Europe many-many more rural properties will run Air Conditioning than in Ireland, have outdoor pools than in Ireland, how much solar/wind generation is in the counties by comparison. How does far colder winters in Scandinavian counties or Mountainous regions in Europe affect the electricity use profile, what actually are the different home heating profiles - gas, oil, solid, electricity ?

      This report is vaguehand-waving bollocks..

      1. General Purpose Silver badge

        Re: So 35% of elec is residential

        It's entirely sensible and reasonable that Ireland's Central Statistics Office would compare Ireland's datacentre usage with Ireland's residential usage of Ireland's electricity.

      2. Max Pyat

        Re: So 35% of elec is residential

        It's actually not "hand waving bollocks"

        This has been a very active topic of discussion in the industry (datacentre, EirGrid, ESB Networks, and generators) for well over 5 years. The growth and magnitude has been and continues to be/become very difficult to manage. It has major knock on effects on the energy system and on other industries too (as getting grid connections has become much more difficult).

        What you're seeing here is that discussion protruding into general consumption media.

  5. DevOpsTimothyC Bronze badge
    Trollface

    gotta be the crypto mining

    Probably all the crypto mining

    1. Bartholomew Bronze badge
      Meh

      Re: gotta be the crypto mining

      > gotta be the crypto mining

      I'm not saying mining crypto is smart or stupid, just that mining crypto in Ireland would be extra stupid.

      Mining crypto is all about minimising the money spent per kWh on power (while simultaneously maximising your percentage of the current ~235,630,000,000,000,000,000 SHA-256 hashes per second) and Ireland would be a really bad choice (If you count the zeros Kilo, Mega, Giga, Tera, Peta, Exa, Zetta, so the current rate is nearly a quarter of a Zettahash/second!).

      Before VAT and TAX, Ireland has the most expensive electricity in Europe (~€0.24 per kWh). After VAT and TAX only Belgium (~€0.30 per kWh), Germany (~€0.33 per kWh) and Denmark (~€0.34 per kWh) cost more than Ireland (~€0.29 per kWh).

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: gotta be the crypto mining

        My electricity bill is quite a bit more more than €0.24 (£0.27 or €0.32), and that is the residential rate which is price-capped.

        Business rates are north of 50p per kWh.

        1. Trubbs

          Re: gotta be the crypto mining

          "My electricity bill is quite a bit more more than €0.24 (£0.27 or €0.32), and that is the residential rate which is price-capped."

          Assuming you are in the UK then European comparisons don't really apply?

          1. Max Pyat

            Re: gotta be the crypto mining

            I think their point was that Ireland was at least probably a better place for crypto mining than the UK.

      2. NeilPost Silver badge

        Re: gotta be the crypto mining

        Plus the Data Centre Hosting fees.

        Although crypto-mining is not ecologically sound … spinning AWS or Google Cloud up to do your mining sounds like a straw-man/blame the boogy-man argument.

        Far better to use malware and other peoples ‘free’ home CPU cycles.

  6. MrGreen

    Energy Consumption is BAD !!

    This is the new narrative the mainstream media is belt feeding to everyone.

    Energy consumption is a good thing, otherwise we’d all still be living in caves. However, the narrative is that green energy from wind and solar is what we need because rich land owners have incentivised their politician and media friends to say so.

    No mention of nuclear energy for years though? Isn’t that funny. Oh yes, it’s because we can’t get subsidies off every single person who pays an energy bill.

    The media were told to start a witch hunt against crypto mining, now it’s data centres, next it’ll be tumble driers and Christmas lights.

    Let’s blame the energy “users” as it distracts from politicians choosing to adopt green energy solutions that don’t work but make maximum profits for them and their mates.

    1. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Energy Consumption is BAD !!

      "Energy consumption [for useful purposes] is a good thing"

      It is clear that for all the BS about capitalism driving economic growth, there is only one correlation to economic growth and prosperity that is valid from the dawn of recorded history to modern times, and that is energy use. China is a clear example that democracy + capitalism has nothing to do with growth.

      Of course what is bad isn't the consumption of energy per se.... it's (a) wasteful consumption, (b) sourcing energy in ways that are clean (we still want a planet suitable for human habitation) and (c) sustainable - at the moment we're burning through hundreds of millions of years' worth of stored sunlight, and at some point that's going to run out and we have to make do with current sunlight (and derivatives) plus nuclear.

  7. brianpope

    Datacenters vs grid power.

    It would be far better to legislate for datacenters to generate the majority of their own power.

    A typical datacenter in Ireland may consume 60MW - equivalent to the use of a large city eg Kilkenny

    There is one major disincentive for companies though: Electricity Generators, with over 10MW capacity, are obliged by law to sell electricity directly into the grid's SEM. They must then buy back any power they require from the grid.

    1. brianpope

      Re: Datacenters vs grid power.

      Perhaps datacenters could have SMRs (small modular reactors) ?

      Far safer than large centralised nuclear plants.

      They could even be community owned, powering micro grids of surrounding built infrastructure - houses, industry.Resilience would be improved, preventing whole grid brownouts.

      Eirgrid may not like this of course, as they wish to keep a monopoly on grid electricity supply, and have the government in Ireland invest many billions to upgrade the grid - and then fleece consumers to pay levies to cover the costs.

    2. brianpope

      Re: Datacenters vs grid power.

      Instead of wasting huge amounts of excess heat from datacenters via air conditioners, it could be mandated the heat is redirected into district housing systems to heat houses in the vicinity for free, or at least subsidised.

      win-win. datacenter gets rid of heat. houses dont need to consume extra energy to heat themselves. District heat likely more efficient than thousands of household individual boilers. Overall CO2 reduction.

      1. Kristian Walsh

        Re: Datacenters vs grid power.

        Because that hot air is typically below 35C (i.e., only 10-15 above indoor ambient) efficient energy extraction is expensive (although it's getting better). The low temperature also precludes use for district heating except in places with high-density accommodation and harsh winters, and Ireland has neither.

    3. richardcox13

      Re: Datacenters vs grid power.

      < equivalent to the use of a large city eg Kilkenny

      According to an unreliable source, in 2016 Kilkenny had a population under 27,000, I think you have a very odd definition of "large".

      Unless your basis of a for city sizing is St. David's, which is a village with history.

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Datacenters vs grid power.

        Or the US definition of a "city" which is roughly equivalent to an English Parish Council, or a Welsh Community Council such as St David's.

      2. brianpope

        Re: Datacenters vs grid power.

        fair point. I meant a larger city in an Irish context. It would class as a large town elsewhere eg somewhere in England I guess.

        I only used Kilkenny as a suitable example for the amount of consumption.

  8. pimppetgaeghsr

    So subsidised by the Irish taxpayer whilst they offshore the profits and avoid taxes?

  9. Duncan10101

    Lies, damned lies, and statistics

    <not_sarcastic>

    There are 100 way to spin these data. I really don't see any meaningful underlying fact. And I'm writing as a guy who gets his hot water from solar and most of his electricity from solar (yes, I'm somebody who actually cares enough to invest in a home system that will NEVER pay for itself, in the hope of reducing my carbon footprint). Puh-lease, let's see a meaningful analysis. Anyone care for a beyond-meat burger?

    </not_sarcastic>

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