Major tech companies such as Google’s parent Alphabet and Meta Platforms, the company behind Facebook, among others, are getting caught up in the European energy crisis. The companies previously received approval for the construction of large data centres in countries such as Luxembourg, but plans were later suspended. Now that the energy supply is being compromised by Russia’s war against Ukraine, political sentiment for the huge complexes is also changing.
For the time being, a line went through two data centres, including in Zeewolde, after resistance from the local population and environmental groups. This was mainly due to the heavy energy consumption. The facilities typically gobble up an amount of power from a small town. Due to this energy consumption, the data centres are no longer in vogue with some European governments. Also because the light has to stay on this winter.
Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Denmark will propose stricter efficiency measures at a meeting of European Union energy ministers on 27 June. The aim is for all 27 member states to agree to the same rules for large technology companies to protect the EU’s green energy targets. The current record prices are pushing EU countries to figure out how to consume less electricity. But the question is also how the green agenda goes hand in hand with Europe’s tech ambitions.
Data centres in the EU already accounted for 2.7 percent of electricity demand in 2018. This percentage is increasing as more and more people spend their time surfing the internet, shopping online or streaming movies. If nothing is done, electricity consumption could rise to 3.2 percent by 2030, according to the European Commission. That amounts to about 100 Terawatt hours, roughly double the electricity consumed by Greece in 2019.
The energy regulator in Ireland, which is home to one of the largest clusters of data centres, recently warned that consumers could eventually face blackouts if new policies are not put in place for access to the electricity grid. By 2030, nearly a quarter of Ireland’s power demand may come from data centres.
The pressure on the tech industry comes at a time when the EU is debating the bloc’s sustainable ambitions. The goal is to have reduced harmful gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.