Wind and data create new economic opportunities

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Ireland's wind generation capacity can open up new models, says Host in Ireland's Connolly

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8 June 2020 | 0

What if you could grow the economy and reduce carbon emissions? Sounds almost too perfect, doesn’t it? Maybe it isn’t. Wind generation is virtually an untapped resource of green electricity within Ireland’s borders and coastline and provides limitless opportunities for Ireland and its economic future. 

Offshore wind electricity is at the heart of the Climate Action Plan’s ambition to cut CO2 emissions in the electricity sector by two-thirds and increase the renewable energy share of electricity demand to 70% by 2030. According to a new report from the IWEA and the Carbon Trust, this translates to 2,500 new jobs over the next 10 years and €42 billion in lifetime investment. Ireland has an offshore wind energy pipeline of 12 GW which is not only beyond what the country needs but opens up the possibility of what to do with that excess.

One idea currently being discussed is exporting the surplus across Europe. In recent government negotiations, discussions have been had about how to invest in floating offshore wind turbines and establishing interconnects to Britain and Europe for export purposes. But as these discussions imply, the infrastructure to transport electricity does not currently exist and what does exist does not have the capacity required to fully capitalise on Ireland’s surplus. 

 

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There is another opportunity Ireland can take advantage of much more quickly. Data centres play a critical role in keeping our economy moving. They are a part of the largest Irish export industry, ICT, responsible for €86 billion in exported services per year. As the push to export green wind electricity grows, so does the opportunity to use that electricity to power a more valuable export asset in the form of data. The infrastructure to move data already exists, and as we see with other natural resources, the value add of a data service is greater than the wind resource alone. 

The Irish data centre industry depends on the drive for green electricity development in order to meet power availability demands. Power availability defines the size of any data centre operation. Without a guarantee of power availability, the data centre business model would not work. So not only will exporting data services provide a greater value add to the Irish economy, it will also fuel further growth and expansion in the green electricity sector. 

“Not only will exporting data services provide a greater value add to the Irish economy, it will also fuel further growth and expansion in the green electricity sector,” Garry Connolly, Host in Ireland (Image: Host in Ireland)

Host in Ireland, in association with Bitpower, has begun tracking data centre capacity growth alongside the carbon intensity of electricity and CO2 attributable to data centres. Knowing the interconnected nature of data centres and the push for green electricity, we wanted to look at the correlation between the two in our most recent Quarterly Report. Using data from SEAI, IWEA, EPA and EirGrid, we have found that whilst the trend for data centre growth is upwards, their proportion of Ireland’s total emissions will level-off at approximately 2.2% through 2025. The numbers will continue to fall as a result of further decarbonising of the grid — thanks to wind electricity generation — as part of the government’s Climate Action Plan. 

Ireland has a tremendous opportunity ahead of itself and the time is ripe to have the discussion about how to maximise Ireland’s wind electricity surplus. There is a unique opportunity for two of Ireland’s most valuable assets to coincide with each other and boost their economic impact collectively. We need to ensure our impact on the environment is minimised, and it may be possible to do it in a way that provides an even greater return for Ireland. 

Garry Connolly is the president and founder of Host in Ireland, a strategic global initiative created to increase awareness of the benefits of hosting digital assets in Ireland

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