• Steel plants use 60% of the energy demand of a data centre but provide 26 times as many jobs
• Port Talbot steel plant in Wales provides 28.5 jobs for every megawatt of demand compared to 1.5 at the data centre at Athenry
• Approval for planning permission of any industrial project should require a high jobs to energy demand ratio of at least say six or seven.
Last week, Apple received approval for their data centre in Athenry, County Galway to great fanfare in the media. I can only find one article (in the Independent) which dealt with facts (Revealed: Data centres to swallow 75pc of growth in Irish power demand). The article gives a good overview of the problems that lie ahead.
I am not in favor of opposing something for the sake of opposing it. I'm in favor of discussing all the available facts and basing decisions on those. What we have now in Ireland is approving something for the sake of approving it which is just as bad as the other extreme. I fail to understand how a country which prides itself on it's higher education credentials does not discuss the facts in relation to new projects such as data centres.
David Hughes wrote previously on the Athenry data centre (The Cloud Bytes Back) :
To give an example Apple are seeking permission for a 240MW data centre in Athenry Co. Galway, which will create up to 215 jobs. The electricity consumption of this data centre will be the same as 420,000 Irish homes. This is ¼ of all Irish homes or every single house in Dublin City, Dun Laoghaire, Fingal and South County Dublin combined. Basically, the electricity needs of 1 Million people.It seems the jobs figure has been revised downwards to 150 full time jobs according to the above Independent article. So that's about 1.5 jobs for every megawatt of demand.
Let's compare that to another high energy industrial user - steel plants in the UK. Port Talbot steel plant in Wales was due to shut down in the near future but the employees fought hard and the plant remains open for the time being. It employs nearly 4,000 people.
Port Talbot steelworks’ current demand for energy is about 140 Megawatts (MW), about half of which is internally generated. That works out at 28.5 jobs for every megawatt of demand.
A steel plant therefore generates about eighteen times more jobs per megawatt of demand than a data centre. Even if those jobs were cut in half by new technology, steel would still provide more jobs by a factor of nine.
Based on figures for Port Talbot then, steel plants use 60% of the energy demand of a data centre but provide 26 times as many jobs
The Government is keen to promote Ireland as being a location where it can meet the needs of the IT sector by providing certainty around planning and power supplyInterestingly, the government is not trying to promote Ireland as a location for steel plants which would create many times more jobs.
The impact on energy demand, fossil fuel imports, emissions, electricity prices and 2020 targets will be enormous from data centres. As a consequence, it will be harder to attract other high energy industrial users that could provide many more jobs. There needs to be a good payback for Ireland Inc. to compensate. Of course, they need to built somewhere to provide the demand for internet services. But Ireland should not allow so many to be built here. We simply cannot afford it.
Approval for planning permission of any industrial project should require a high jobs to energy demand ratio of at least say six or seven.