Data Centres in USA Need Lots of Power

AI gone wild in Bloomberg Cleaner Tech
By Saijel Kishan and Josh Saul In a 30-square-mile patch of northern Virginia that’s been dubbed “data center alley,” the boom in artificial intelligence is turbocharging electricity use. Struggling to keep up, the power company that serves the area temporarily paused new data center connections at one point in 2022. Virginia’s environmental regulators considered a plan to allow data centers to run diesel generators during power shortages, but backed off after it drew strong community opposition. In the Kansas City area, a data center along with a factory for electric-vehicle batteries that are under construction will need so much energy the local provider put off plans to close a coal-fired power plant. This is how it is in much of the US, where electric utilities and regulators have been caught off guard by the biggest jump in demand in a generation. One of the things they didn’t properly plan for is AI, an immensely power-hungry technology that uses specialized microchips to process mountains of data. A graph of the us electricity demand

Description automatically generated Electricity consumption at US data centers alone is poised to triple from 2022 levels, to as much as 390 terawatt hours by the end of the decade, according to Boston Consulting Group. That’s equal to about 7.5% of the nation’s projected electricity demand. “We do need way more energy in the world than we thought we needed before,” Sam Altman, chief executive officer of OpenAI, whose ChatGPT tool has become a global phenomenon, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We still don’t appreciate the energy needs of this technology.” For decades, US electricity demand rose by less than 1% annually. But utilities and grid operators have doubled their annual forecasts for the next five years to about 1.5%, according to Grid Strategies, a consulting firm that based its analysis on regulatory filings. That’s the highest since the 1990s, before the US stepped up efforts to make homes and businesses more energy efficient. It’s not just the explosion in data centers that has power companies scrambling to revise their projections. The Biden administration’s drive to seed the country with new factories that make electric cars, batteries and semiconductors is straining the nation’s already stressed electricity grid.  To cope with the surge, some power companies are reconsidering plans to mothball plants that burn fossil fuels, while a few have petitioned regulators for permission to build new gas-powered ones. That means President Joe Biden’s push to bolster environmentally friendly industries could end up contributing to an increase in emissions, at least in the near term. Rob Gramlich, founder of Grid Strategies, says that based on his firm’s projections for peak usage during the summer months, the US could soon be facing a future of rolling blackouts if infrastructure improvements keep getting delayed. Many tech companies and clean tech manufacturers prefer their plants to be powered exclusively by renewable energy. But those aspirations are running up against reality, says Mark Nelson, managing director of energy consultancy Radiant Energy Group. Read the full story to find out how data center operators and utilities are trying to stay ahead of the energy crunch.