Data center power consumption ‘sixfold in 10 years’

Data center power consumption ‘sixfold in 10 years’

Booms in artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing will drive a surge in energy use, National Grid has predicted.

Both rely on data centers – warehouses full of computer systems.

Chief executive John Pettigrew said the power used by the data center would increase sixfold in the next decade.

He said the grid was becoming “constrained” and “bold action” was needed to create a network capable of handling “dramatically” increased demand.

“Future growth in foundational technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing will mean larger-scale, energy-intensive computing infrastructure,” Mr Pettigrew said.

The National Grid boss said in a speech on Tuesday, shared on LinkedIn, that now is a “pivotal moment” for grid transformation – with increasing demand for energy-hungry technologies and more people opting for heat pumps or electric cars.

“Today, just like in the 1950s, we find ourselves with limited networks,” he said.

“Demand on the grid is growing dramatically, and is predicted to double by 2050 as heat, transport and industry continue to electrify.”

The high-voltage transmission network of cables and pylons that make up the UK’s “supergrid” is now more than 70 years old.

To achieve net zero emissions by 2050 in line with global targets, grid operators are under pressure to deliver upgrades to current infrastructure that can meet higher consumer demand for electricity in the future and do so sustainably by connecting to renewable energy sources.

We are at a “time that requires innovative thinking and bold action to create the delivery networks of tomorrow,” Mr Pettigrew said.

Power hungry
Most observers agree that whatever that future looks like, the data center will be a part of it.

It has become essential to our modern life and technology, operating as the physical home to our digital information stored in the so-called “cloud” and other forms of IT equipment that power services and platforms.

But all that computing power comes at an environmental cost. Some studies have warned that the AI industry alone could use as much energy as a country the size of the Netherlands by 2027.

The sector has enjoyed an economic boom following the launch of chatbots such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and image creation tools such as Midjourney.

Concerns over their energy consumption and demand on infrastructure have increased in recent years.

Official data shows that in the Republic of Ireland, which houses the European headquarters of several large technology firms such as Google and Facebook parent Meta, data centers will account for almost a fifth of all electricity used in 2022.

The amount of electricity used by data centers in the country has increased by 400% since 2015 and sparked a debate about capacity.

Meanwhile, quantum computers, which process data differently to regular computers and can complete complex calculations very quickly, are still mostly being used experimentally to see what they can do.

But it is hoped that in the future they will be able to obtain scientific discoveries and develop safe methods of communication.

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