Data center electricity consumption jumped 32% in 2021, new figures show

ELECTRICITY CONSUMPTION BY DATA CENTERS increased by nearly a third in a single year, according to new figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The figures show that there was a 32% increase in electricity use by data centers between 2020 and 2021.

The amount of electricity consumed by data centers between October and December 2021 increased by 265% compared to January and March 2015.

The figures also show that the country’s total amount of electricity consumed by data centers nearly tripled in six years, from 5% in 2015 to 14% in 2021.

By comparison, rural households accounted for 12% of metered electricity consumed last year, while urban households consumed 21%.

Quarterly measured electricity consumption by data centers increased from 290 gigawatt hours in the first quarter of 2015 to 1,058 gigawatt hours in the last quarter of 2021.

“The increase in consumption was driven by a combination of existing data centers using more electricity and new data centers being added to the grid,” said Niamh Shanahan, a statistician in the CSO environment and climate division.

There are around 70 data centers in Ireland, and tech giants Amazon, Facebook and Google all have storage facilities here. Another eight are currently under construction.

Host in Ireland, an industry group, estimated that €7 billion was spent building facilities between 2010 and 2020, with a further €7 billion expected to be invested in the five-year period to 2026.

EirGrid has forecast that hubs will account for 29% of the country’s energy demand by 2028, up from 11% in 2020.

Last year, EirGrid CEO Mark Foley told the Joint Committee of Oireachtas on Environment and Climate Action that data centers are a “fundamental part of the social and economic fabric of 21st-century life.”

“I think what the regulator has been doing for the last few months and will publish, I think, in the short term, it will strike the right balance where data centers can get connections and sign contracts with us in the future, but they will have to contribute something to the party in terms of helping us work through the next few years and the challenges that we have,” Foley said.

The committee also heard that the current growth in the country’s electricity demand due to data centers is “unlike anything Ireland has seen in the last 100 years”.

Aoife MacEvilly, chairman of the Utilities Regulatory Commission, told the committee demand is “connecting to the grid faster and easier than has been possible to deliver the supporting generation and transmission infrastructure.”

The figures also show that large energy users with very high consumption accounted for 23% of total measured consumption in 2021. Total measured electricity consumption in 2021 was 28,506 GWh, an increase of 5% compared to 2020.

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The consumption of large energy users increased by 17% between 2020 and 2021 and 80% between 2015 and 2021.

Urban residential homes consumed 21%, while rural residential homes consumed 12% of the total electricity consumption measured in 2021.

Dublin postcodes had the highest share of residential consumption in 2021 at 18%, followed by Cork at 12%, County Dublin at 7%, Galway at 6% and Kildare at 5%.

“Counties with homes that use electricity as the primary fuel for space heating, as well as the total number of meters, are the main underlying factors determining residential demand,” Shanahan said.

The number of nonresidential electricity meters increased from 274,094 in 2015 to 290,384 in 2021, while the number of residential electricity meters increased by about 106,000 in the same period.

With information from Catherine Healy and Lauren Boland.

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