A lobby group for the wind energy sector expects “several” large US multinationals with operations here to announce major investments in windfarm-powered data centres in Ireland over the coming months, following Apple’s recent announcement of an €850 million facility in Galway.
The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA), which holds its annual conference in Dublin on Wednesday, says it has had contact from a consultancy working on behalf of some of the multinationals, which is scouting locations.
When asked who are the multinationals planning wind-powered data farms, Kenneth Matthews, the chief executive of the IWEA said they are “the usual big name companies with major operations in Ireland”.
He declined to provide further details.
Likely candidates would include Google, which already has data facilities in Ireland and is rumoured to be planning further such investment. It recently struck a deal in Holland to power a data centre there with wind energy.
Microsoft also has data facilities in Ireland, which is an advantageous location for such facilities as the climate here is cool, requiring less air conditioning of the the data farms, which expel significant heat from the servers.
The IWEA has also commissioned a report by international engineering consultants, Pöyry, that suggests the influx of data centres will boost electricity demand in Ireland by about 20 per cent by 2020.
Pöyry maintains that if the State allows the construction of enough windfarms to provide the electricity for these data centres, in addition to the capacity required for Ireland to meet its 2020 renewables targets, it could also reduce the cost of electricity for households.
The report concludes that Irish consumers’ electricity bills could fall by up between €26 and €33 per household if enough investment in wind energy takes place by 2020.
The report maintains that, without new wind generation capacity, fossil fuel imports to provide the extra electricity will increase by 11 per cent.
“Seismic change is coming in terms of data centres and electricity demand,” said Mr Matthews, who pointed to a report by Eirgrid that suggests at least 700MW of new data centres are planned in Ireland in coming years.
“These companies want to power their facilities with wind for reasons of corporate social responsibility and price. If we choose to add to our system by adding wind generated capacity, they want to buy it.”
Mr Matthews pointed to a suggestion in the report that the extra investment in windfarms called for by the IWEA would “lower overall cost by €55 million across the system”.
Opponents of large-scale development of windfarms regularly criticise their perceived impact on the environment and have also questioned their true economic impact, criticisms that the IWEA rejects.
Mr Matthews said there is sufficient capital washing around the sector to facilitate the development he says is required, and that the Government is also generally supportive.
“But some other things are needed,” he said.
Mr Matthews criticised proposed increases in the commercial rates payable by windfarms, suggested by the Rates Valuation Office.
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