Irish Examiner view: Energy options will define our legacy

Ireland should consider a modern, safe, domestic nuclear energy option to safeguard future energy requirements
Irish Examiner view: Energy options will define our legacy

A May report from the data hosting industry recorded that the number of operational data centres in Ireland increased by 25% over the last year. 

Even if uncertainty tightens its grip on our consciousness almost on a daily basis a few assertions seem rock solid. 

It is certain that our appetite for energy, on household, industrial, and society-wide levels, will continue to grow. 

How we generate, deliver, manage and cherish that energy will be one of this era’s defining legacies. 

The same principle can be applied to water which is, unlike energy, a finite resource.

That electricity generated through renewable sources accounted for 43% of all electricity consumed in Ireland last year recognises that obligation. 

Nevertheless, that ratio must grow if we are to reach the target of 70% renewable electricity this decade. 

Realising that objective, as so many weather events across the world show today, is no longer optional.

One of the newer complexities in that evolution is Ireland’s growing status as one of the EU’s primary hosts of energy-voracious data centres. 

A May report from the data hosting industry recorded that the number of operational data centres in Ireland increased by 25% over the last year. 

Ireland has 70 and they use 900 megawatts (MW) of electricity, with eight under construction with planned 250MW usage. 

Most are concentrated in the greater Dublin region, which is becoming Europe’s largest data centre hub. 

That growth will accelerate in the coming days when plans for a €1.2bn data centre outside Ennis are expected to be lodged.

Data centres not only consume vast quantities of energy they also make a significant contribution to our carbon emissions total — 1.85% last year. 

The sector is dominated by the hyperscale companies Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google; all of which have committed to using 100% renewables and net-zero emissions.

Data centre construction totalled €7bn in the decade to 2020 and the next five years will see €7bn invested, €1.33bn this year according to the industry. 

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe probably had one eye on that spectacular growth when he announced that Ireland could not be involved in the current proposals on taxing multinationals.

The multinational nature of today’s energy market was underlined yesterday when Eirgrid formally applied to An Bord Pleanála for permission to build the €1bn infrastructure needed to link with French electricity producers. 

State-owned Eirgrid and its French peer, Réseau de Transport d’Électricité, have come together to build the link, dubbed the Celtic Interconnector, from Cork to Brittany.

The scale of today’s energy needs is highlighted by the fact that this ambitious project will deliver more than 700 MW, not even enough to satisfy today’s data centre needs. 

Nevertheless, the conduit will tie our electricity system to the broader European network, which might in the longer term, cut energy costs and provide extra sources of supply. 

It underlines, again, the positive impact of our EU membership. 

The EU is providing €530m for the interconnector scheme under a 'projects of common interest' scheme. 

These seem positive developments but there is a nagging doubt, a nagging feeling that our legacy might be more appreciated if it included a modern, safe, domestic nuclear energy option.

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