Forecast data from International Energy Agency shines light on how booming demand for datacentres is affecting energy usage levels in different geographies
Senior Editor, UK
Published: 25 Jan 2024 17:00
One-third of Ireland’s energy will be used to power datacentres by 2026, claims a 170-page report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), as the number of server farms in the country is expected to grow by 65% over the coming years.
The report states there are currently 82 datacentres in operation in Ireland, with a further 14 already under construction and another 40 already approved to be built, which will lead to a consequential increase in demand from the sector for energy.
“Electricity demand from datacentres in Ireland was 5.3 TWh in 2022, representing 17% of the country’s total electricity consumed … at this pace, Ireland’s datacentres may double their electricity consumption by 2026, and with artificial intelligence [AI] penetrating the market at a fast rate, we forecast the sector to reach a share of 32% of the country’s total electricity demand in 2026,” it says.
And this is a situation, the report warns, that may pose challenges for the reliability and stability of the country’s electricity system.
It also goes on to predict the amount of electricity consumed by the datacentre sector could hit 1,000 TWh in 2026, which is equivalent to the total amount of power used by the whole of Japan, as the demand for compute capacity, AI and cryptocurrency workloads increase.
According to its forecast, electricity demand from datacentres, AI and the cryptocurrency sector is on course to double by 2026.
The report further states there are 8,000 datacentres around the world, with around a third (33%) of them based in the US. China accounts for around 10% of these facilities, while Europe is home to 16%.
This means there are approximately 1,240 datacentres in Europe and – as of 2022 – they consumed around 100 TWh of power, which equates to almost 4% of the European Union’s (EU’s) total electricity demand.
“With the majority concentrated in the financial centres of Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris and Dublin … [and there are] a significant number of additional datacentres planned, as well as new deployments that can be expected to be realised over the coming years, we forecast that electricity consumption in the datacentre sector in the European Union will reach almost 150 TWh by 2026,” the report says.
This projected surge in the amount of energy datacentres consume will need to be moderated, it adds, which means the sector may find itself on the receiving end of additional regulatory intervention and increased pressure to improve the efficiency of its facilities.
The latter could be achieved through the rolling out of more energy-efficient datacentre cooling mechanisms, for example, such as direct-to-chip water cooling systems and liquid cooling systems, too.
“Machine leaning can help reduce the electricity demand of servers by optimising their adaptability to different operating scenarios,” the report states. “Google reported using its DeepMind AI to reduce the electricity demand of their datacentre cooling systems by 40%.
“In the long-term, replacing supercomputers with quantum computers could reduce the electricity demand of the sector if the transition is supported by efficient cooling systems.”
Another energy usage moderation strategy that datacentres could implement is shifting workloads to different datacentre regions to reduce the pressure on the grid in certain geographies.
Mark Yeeles, vice-president of the secure power division at Schneider Electric UK and Ireland, said the report suggests the datacentre sector is at something of a turning point, as operators will need to realise their current energy usage levels are not sustainable long-term.
“The general consumption of our data and digital habits – social media, email, businesses applications, streaming, gaming, scientific research and enterprise – combined with the adoption of AI platforms, is compounding global data centre growth at a phenomenal rate,” he said.
“However, the misunderstanding of datacentres’ role in the business, consumer and economic landscape, the services they enable, the value they add, and the industry’s position as critical infrastructure – that which all of us depend on each day – is widely misunderstood, and it’s clear we’re at a turning point for the sector.”
Particularly as operators come to realise they are both part of problem and the solution when it comes to addressing climate change and sustainability issues.
“Datacentres provide one of the key solutions to solve the energy and climate challenges, and many operators locally are moving towards a prosumer model – helping to generate as much or more energy than they consume, and thereby reducing their demand on the grid,” he added.
“We need immediate, sustainable action, where government and industry collaborate more closely, and combine existing technologies with innovative engineering to future-proof the country’s energy, economic, and technological outlook.”
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