An industry of substance
As we kick off a new decade, there is much to be celebrated in the Irish data centre industry. Building on an information and communications technology (ICT) foundation that is decades old, the Irish data centre cluster became the largest in Europe in 2019. Data centres are part of the critical infrastructure that acts as a foundation for the Foreign Direct Investment in the ICT industry in Ireland. It is by far our largest service export at €86 billion per year and underwrites almost 115,000 ICT jobs in Ireland. Ireland has achieved a role as a centre of excellence for all things data, both data resting here and the exporting of the design, build and operation of the centres themselves.
The challenges ahead
Looking ahead to the next decade, Tier 1 data centre clusters around the world are going to be faced with the same challenge: maintain ongoing growth whilst decarbonising it's electrical grid. No market will be immune as entire societies have an increasing duty of care to ensure carbon overhead is at a minimum. Whilst the Irish national grid sets a target of 70% of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030, many in the data centre industry are setting a target of 100% by 2025.
What are the big players doing?
Host in Ireland commends Microsoft’s leadership in recently declaring a renewable energy only policy by 2025 and a plan to be carbon negative by 2030. By taking responsibility for Scope 1, 2 and 3 sources of their emissions they are covering their direct, consequential and supply chain emissions. We anticipate this will have a significant positive impact globally, including Ireland, and sets the bar high for the entire industry.
Last year, Amazon took power matters into their own hands with two wind farm projects in Donegal and County Cork as part of its long-term goal to power all Amazon Web Services (AWS) global infrastructure with renewable energy. The wind farm in Donegal is being built without any subsidies and undertaken at no cost to the Irish energy consumer - making it the largest unsubsidised Corporate Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) project in Ireland.
Why do data centres exist in Ireland in the first place?
Growth in data: Smart phones, smart cities, smart cars, smart homes are all generating data and communicating with data centres for every online transaction. IDC predicts that by 2025 the data sphere will be 175 zetabytes (in CDrom terms that would get you to the moon and back 23 times). This proliferation of data is fueled by the digitisation of everyday life, in fact, it’s expected that people will interact with connected devices every 18 seconds by 2025. All of this data is run through some form of a data centre.
Most efficient storage and compute: Data centres are the most efficient way to store and process this data. Having purpose-built efficient buildings means there is a gradual move away from inefficient dispersed computer rooms..
Floppy to fibre the evolution: Ireland was declared the largest exporter of software in the world in 2000, it's no small coincidence that we now house the largest data centre cluster in Europe as ICT services account for 47% of our service-related exports.
Dematerialisation of the planet: Data is enabling efficiencies across a variety of industries, such as smart heating/cooling in building operations. These efficiencies can outweigh the carbon impact of the ICT industry itself by 1.5 times today with expected growth to 10x by 2030.
When all is said and done, let’s get more done than said
The relationship between Ireland and data has now entered it's 7th decade. Started by IBM in 1956, the job and economic benefits of data to Ireland is everywhere to be seen from Intel’s recent €6.5bn expansion to Linkedin's new office campus. The leading data centre owners are showing leadership via the pledges and actions they are making around sustainability, in particular, the recent Microsoft announcement forces the hand of the entire supply chain to make real and material changes on how they conduct their business. Ireland's Climate Action Plan has set an annual 70% renewable electricity target for Ireland’s grid and many of the leading users in Ireland including data centres have declared a target of 100% electricity from renewable sources.
The time for talking is done, now it's up to governments, policymakers, grid owners and electricity purchasers to commit to a decade of action on the decarbonisation of electricity and talk less and act more.
Host In Ireland President & Founder