Páraic Hayes heads US West Coast operations at IDA: Foreign Direct Investment Ireland. He has spent 10+ years advising leading Technology and Lifesciences companies from across the US on global expansion projects, and it’s great to hear his perspective on data centers going green in 2020 and their position in Ireland.
Question #1: How does renewable energy play into the future of data centers?
Páraic Hayes: The number of data centers is expected to soar in the next several years. Some figures predict the global data center market to reach revenues of around $174 billion by 2023. Yet, data centers are in the spotlight over their carbon footprint. The growing number of these facilities and their increasing electricity demands strains power generation resources and grid infrastructure. If we consider that globally, data centers use around 200 terawatt-hours (TWh) of power each year, this accounts for 1% of the world’s electricity demand and 0.3% of overall emission.
Swedish researcher Anders Andrae predicts that by 2025, data centers will require ICT’s largest share of global electricity production, at 33 percent. Meanwhile, operators of large data centers—a list that includes some of the world’s wealthiest companies—are developing programs that replace their current fossil-fuel use with solar, wind and other renewables. We are all seeing high-profile demonstrations about climate change. 2020 will be the year that data centers significantly increase their use of renewable energy.
Question #2: Who is first off the blocks?
Páraic: As a result of the Paris Climate Agreement and the EU’s target to reach 20% of energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, data center operators in the EU fully understand the responsibilities on them to source all operational electricity from renewable sources.
Some of the world’s largest data center operators are quickly transitioning from fossil fuels to green technologies. Google, Amazon and Microsoft have committed to 100% renewable energy sources for their data centers globally.
In Ireland, where Amazon has plans for a 91.2 MW wind farm in Donegal, it’s expected to deliver clean energy no later than the end of 2021. The investment, estimated at $200 million, will supply clean energy to the company’s Amazon Web Service (AWS)’s data centers. Then, later this year, as part of its goal to get all of its energy from renewable sources at its Irish operations by 2022, AWS announced plans for a second wind farm in Ireland—this one a 23.2 MW farm in Cork.
SIMEC Atlantic, a UK-based energy provider, has announced its plan to build a tidal-powered data center off the northern shores of Scotland. A private wire network will be used to transfer power from the tidal turbines to the data center. The power used by the tidal turbines is being supplied by SIMEC Atlantic’s green energy project, MeyGen.
Question #3: In your opinion, why is the Irish government supporting the growth of data centers?
Páraic: Data centers have come in for some criticism due to their energy consumption. In the last year for example, Amsterdam, has halted construction of new data centers due to space, energy and regulatory concerns. However, in Ireland, we see data centres as a key part of the very sophisticated and supportive ecosystem for data rich companies. Ireland has 48 data centers with 540MW of grid-connected power capacity, and the industry there shows no signs of slowing. Sixteen new centers became operational in 2018 alone, 28 more are in development, and $5 billion worth of capital investment is expected in the next four years.
The reason for this is the scale of the data and technology cluster in Ireland, with all the major public cloud players including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, growing major teams there. Why is this? Ireland has one of the most reliable and stable grid systems in Europe, as well as a robust regulatory and operational ecosystem. With the move towards renewables and the access to wind energy, the country can see a significant ramp-up in alternative uses of energy.
For this reason, it’s full steam ahead on renewables and data centers.