Ireland has been described as a hotspot for data centres at an industry event in Dublin.

The DataCentres Ireland event at the RDS attracted people who work in the industry, many of who travelled from abroad. There were also protesters outside calling for a ban to stop any more being built.

The protest was led by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith who said: "We already have 70 data centres here, 30 more have planning permission and there's already several under construction. The EirGrid operators warned us as late as last April that we will have blackouts this winter."

She said no more data centres should be built arguing we have more than enough.

EirGrid, which runs the electricity network, has said blackouts are possible. In a statement to RTÉ News it commented:

"It is likely that in the coming winter we will experience a number of system alerts. This is a formal notification to the generators that our supply demand balance is getting very tight and we no longer have the level of buffer we would like.

"The worst-case scenario, and one that we are working with the ESB to actively plan for should it be required, if demand exceeded supply and we entered an emergency state. If this were to happen, working with the ESB we would have work with customers to reduce demand and if required instigate controlled outages that would allow for the recovery of the level of power on the grid to restore full power."

But some say it is too simplistic to put all the blame on data centres.

Director of the Energy Institute at UCD Professor Andrew Keane said: "It's down to issues around maintenance schedules being disrupted by Covid-19 and the pandemic, and that's the real issue we face this winter, is that there's been a disruption and there's plant offline. They're coming back online, they're due to be back online this week, so the probability of a blackout should decrease."

He argued that data centres should play their part in managing demand saying "anyone connecting to the grid, they need to do their bit for the grid" and EirGrid should impose conditions on those seeking new connections.

Anthony Byrne was representing Edina, a company which provides power solutions at the DataCentres Ireland event.

He said using gas powered generators or battery banks, data centres can secure their own power supply and possibly even feed power back into the grid to help out if supply is tight.

Also at the event was Stephen Bowes-Phipps, a Senior Data Centre Consultant with PTS Consulting.

He said Ireland is on the second tier of data centre markets almost moving up to the first tier:

"Dublin has crept up in the psyche, if you like, of the data centre industry to be one of those really critical hotspots for data centres and that's because your government has really encouraged the digital agenda, and they've encouraged the jobs and the investment that's come along."

He said while the long-term direct employment from data centres is not significant, there is a network effect of high-tech industries locating here.

EirGrid said it expects large energy users, including data centres, to account for 27% of energy consumption on the grid by 2030 and it processes applications for new connections according to its statutory obligations.

The growth of demand from many sources may prove to be a challenge as Ireland seeks to meet the Climate Action Plan target of generating 80% of all electricity from renewable sources and raises the question of whether that will be possible without limiting the growth of demand.

There is also the broader question of can we cut emissions while growing the economy?