Wednesday, 21 November 2018
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here with you today at the annual DataCentres Ireland conference. I was delighted to attend this event last year, and I’m grateful to Hugh and the conference team for their invitation to address the event again. It has been an exciting and challenging year for the data centre sector in Ireland and I’m glad to be able to an attend an event like this conference where we can take stock of progress made, and assess collectively the opportunities available in this crucial pillar of a rapidly evolving technology sector.
I’d like to discuss a number of steps that the Irish Government has taken in the past year in order to facilitate the emergence of a strong data centre cluster in Ireland. I’ll address some of the progress we have made, and where we still have work to do. I will firstly seek to give you a sense of how Ireland’s ambition for a vibrant data centre sector fits into our broader strategy, to be at the heart of the European and global digital eco-system and economy.
On June 7th of this year my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys T.D. launched our ‘Government Statement on the Role of Data Centres in Ireland’s Enterprise Policy’. This document sets out the strategic importance of data centres to Ireland’s overarching enterprise policy, and their role in attracting foreign investment to Ireland in the technology sector. I’m sure many of those attending this event will already have had opportunity to review the document – if you haven’t I would encourage you to give it a read.
The Government Statement highlights that the presence of data centres in Ireland raises our visibility internationally as a technology-rich, innovative economy. This places Ireland on the map as a location of choice for a broad range of sectors and activities that are increasingly reliant on digital capabilities. It also highlights the technical and specialised skill set available in Ireland’s data technology sectors, employed in both Irish and foreign owned enterprises.
Data Centres are capital intensive, they tend to have long life spans, and they continue to generate a deep expertise in our Irish construction and engineering enterprises that now export their services internationally. Investment in this space bolsters Ireland’s credentials as Europe’s data capital, and positions us well to continue growing our technology sectors.
But we must ensure that our workforce is ready. Tomorrow I will be participating in the launch of the Government’s ‘Future Jobs’ initiative. The Irish economy is performing strongly and unemployment is at its lowest level for years. However, this strong performance masks some vulnerabilities and we cannot afford to be complacent. The environment in which our businesses must thrive is changing. As is apparent from the dynamic growth of the data industry, technological innovation is radically transforming our lives and will continue to do so. This presents challenges but also new possibilities - certain job roles will disappear or be redefined and brand new job roles will arise requiring new and different skillsets. ‘Future Jobs’ will be the Government’s plan to meet these challenges.
The EU’s Digital Single Market strategy, launched in June 2015, recognises that for Europe to grow it must embrace the digital revolution and open up digital opportunities for people and business. The Digital Single Market aims to open digital opportunities and enhance Europe’s position as a whole world leader in the digital economy. In order to achieve its ambition, the Digital Single Market, has a very broad remit in three key areas: simplifying access for consumers and business; shaping the environment for digital networks and services to flourish; and maximising the growth potential of the digital economy.
The ‘Government Statement On the Role of Data Centres…’ document does not shy away from the challenges that are also apparent for the further expansion of data centre development in Ireland. While we are ambitious about the potential for growth in this sector, we are not blind to the challenges in terms of the planning process and energy consumption that will need to be addressed. Unconstrained growth, or growth on an ad-hoc basis is not desirable from the State’s perspective, and that is why we have undertaken a planned and strategic approach.
Data centre development has at times encountered difficulties as a result of delays due to planning appeals and subsequent judicial reviews of planning permissions. The Government recognises that there is a need to take account of community and public concerns around individual projects while also ensuring timely decision making in the planning process.
Ireland’s success in attracting data centre development also creates challenges in providing the energy infrastructure necessary to facilitate further expansion of the sector. The potential future energy demand from data centres, under each of the scenarios developed through Eirgrid’s ‘Tomorrow's Energy Scenarios’ process, very clearly lays out the scale of this challenge – particularly for the greater Dublin area.
We know there is a need for us to strike an appropriate balance between the national strategic economic impact of further data centre investments and the potential costs of uncoordinated development. However, we have a number of opportunities and policy tools – particularly in relation to renewable energy generation and assessment of regional locations – that can assist us in finding a favourable outcome to that trade off.
The Government Statement published in June is just one element of the Framework – we have worked hard to cultivate a cross-governmental approach, and have made considerable progress.
Project Ireland 2040 which includes both the National Planning Framework and our National Development Plan, includes an objective for the promotion of Ireland as a sustainable international destination for ICT infrastructures such as data centres andassociated economic activities. The prioritisation of this sector in our national ambition demonstrates our commitment to being at the centre of this industry and embeds this commitment in our planning policy hierarchy.
In line with the Government’s strategic approach, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has now amended the relevant planning legislation to allow for data centres over a size threshold of 10,000 meters squared to be classified as Strategic Infrastructure Developments. The relevant legislative change has been enacted into law and I expect that the Minister will commence this provision – in effect creating a streamlined planning application process for large data centres – early next year. This will help to facilitate streamlined and predictable planning to allow transparent decision-making for developers.
Though the demand for electricity from data centre development poses significant infrastructural challenges, I believe it can also be an opportunity. I hope that this sector can be stimulus for greater generation and use of renewable energy technologies in Ireland. I know that many of the firms that operate in this industry have committed to playing their part in this regard – and I would encourage all those in the sector to consider how you can put energy sustainability at the core of your operations.
For the Government’s part, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment are currently progressing Ireland’s Renewable Electricity Policy and Development Framework (REPDF). The primary objective of REDPF will be to maximise the sustainable use of renewable electricity resources in Ireland. Renewable electricity demand from energy intensive investments such as data centres can spur our national transition to renewable electricity generation. I want to challenge those involved here today to actively champion best-practice energy sustainability and efficiency in the design and operation of Irish data centres.
Eirgrid continue to work with both demand and supply-side stakeholders to ensure prudent and sustainable management of the electricity grid and I know that many here will have engaged with their grid connection process and industry forums.
Outside of the Dublin region, there are specific areas with the grid capacity and required infrastructure to facilitate data centre development without imposing undue burden on the grid. I, and the Government, are encouraging developers to give serious consideration to a number of regional locations when considering further data centre investments in Ireland.
Earlier this year IDA Ireland commissioned a study to identify specific land banks around the country that may be appropriate for Data Centre development, which affirmed the viability of a number of regional locations and the availability of the required infrastructure to support such development. The agency will continue to actively promote locations outside of the Dublin area, while engaging effectively with Eirgrid to demonstrate where capacity is available, and how energy infrastructure can be most efficiently used. This is in line with the agency’s ambition to attract more than 50% of future FDI into locations outside of Dublin. IDA Ireland will also continue to prioritise data centre proposals that will deliver economic impact, contribute to enhanced productivity and added value to the technology sector in Ireland.
As you are aware, IDA Ireland are participating actively at this event – I understand Shane Nolan from IDA’s technology team chaired an interesting panel discussion before lunch – and they work with many of the key players in this sector. Our Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation will continue to assess, on an ongoing basis, the tools that the agency needs to attract and facilitate further investment in this sector.
As everyone knows, the GDPR came into effect on May 25th and the Irish Government enacted its own legislation, the Data Protection Act 2018, in advance of this date. Not every member-state met this deadline but I am proud that Ireland did.
Since the GDPR came into effect, data protection authorities throughout the EU are seeing a rise in breach notifications. The Data Protection Commission of Ireland has recorded a significant increase in the number of referrals although many are in the low to medium risk category.
For its part, the Government is fully committed to ensuring the effectiveness of the DPC through appropriate funding allocations.
Since 2015, the funding for the organisation has increased fourfold and it has been able to increase its staff threefold.
Consequently, the DPC has gained a reputation as extremely credible in terms of maintaining data protection standards and the Government is determined to maintain this position.
Of course, we recognise many of the major tech companies which are headquartered in Ireland are significant data controllers and consequently the DPC is the lead supervisory authority for these entities.
This has obvious implications for the workload of the DPC and the adequacy of resources is kept under constant review.
But getting to today’s event, I have no doubt that the various panel discussions, speakers and those serendipitous conversations around the exhibition will continue to spur interest and activity in this sector. I look forward to hearing the feedback from both days from the organising team - whom I would like to thank again for the invitation to address you here today.
Thank you for attention and enjoy the rest of the event.