Ireland faces energy shortfalls as data centres gobble up supply

DUBLIN, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Ireland may face an electricity shortfall over the next five winters unless it boosts supply to meet an unusual surge in demand, primarily driven by power-hungry data centres, the country’s electricity grid operator warned on Wednesday.

Ireland, which experienced record electricity demand last winter, is set to see demand over the next decade jump by between 28% in a median scenario and 43% if demand is higher, the grid operator, EirGrid, forecast.

By comparison, demand in Northern Ireland, which operates on the same wholesale electricity market, is forecast to increase by 5% to 15%.

Ireland’s increase will be driven by expanding large energy users, especially data centres, it said. Ireland is one Europe’s largest data-centre hubs with Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook all storing data in a country where they are also among some of the largest employers.

In its median scenario, EirGrid said data centres could account for 25% of all demand in Ireland by 2030, up from 11% currently.

The tight supply has led to calls from opposition parties for a pause on the expansion of data centres.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan rejected those calls on Wednesday but said centre operators will be told to live within legally binding carbon-emissions targets due to be set by government in the coming weeks.

Ireland’s Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) will also publish a new connection policy for data centres next month, which it said on Wednesday would include more on-site generation and the cutting of demand at peak times.

The CRU told government to boost supply in a number of ways, including procuring new gas capacity, emergency generators and temporarily extending the operation of older and more expensive higher carbon-emitting plants as a back up.

Consumers may have to pay more as a result, CRU Commissioner Jim Gannon said.

Households across Europe are already facing much higher bills due to soaring gas prices. Ireland has also been hit by the lowest wind levels in decades, poor plant performance and limited interconnector support from Britain, EirGrid said.

“It is going to be difficult for the next three to four years but we can and will manage this,” Ryan, who is also the leader of the junior coalition Green Party, told the Newtalk radio station when asked if Ireland faced power outages. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Bernadette Baum)