Social Climate Tech News

Sat 10 02 2024

How AI Technology is Impacting the Decommissioning of Coal Power Plants

by bernt & torsten

Approximately 20 coal power plant shutdowns in the United States have been postponed due to the high power needs of server rooms. This demand is largely driven by artificial intelligence (AI), which is predicted to consume as much electricity as the entirety of Sweden within three years. These projections indicate a much larger global energy demand than previously anticipated.

According to Boston Consulting Group, power consumption in American server halls is projected to triple by the end of this decade with respect to 2022 figures, accounting for roughly 7.5 percent of the country's electricity needs. With this increased demand, in three years' time, AI could consume around 134 terawatt-hours of electricity - equivalent to leaving a stove turned on for an hour a billion times.

The data analyst behind the study advises against overreaction but acknowledges the figures are considerable. Tech giant Google suggests AI currently constitutes 10-15 percent of their annual energy usage, summing up to 2.3 terawatt-hours, and estimates predict that AI could account for up to 3.5 percent of global electricity requirements by 2030.

The rapid adoption and advancement of AI technology contribute to the uncertainty of its energy needs. This raises crucial questions regarding the production of substantial amounts of energy.

Over 60 percent of the world's electricity production is still derived from fossil fuels, thus raising concerns about the potential acceleration of global carbon emissions due to AI-powered servers. A case in point is the major construction projects in Kansas City - a server hall by Meta and a robotics factory by Panasonic - which have prompted the local energy company, Evergy, to delay its planned retirement of a 1960s coal power plant until 2028.

Despite a temporary surge, all signs point to a dismal future for coal power, particularly in Western countries, due to increasing demand for clean energy. Predictions by the International Energy Agency suggest that fossil fuels, which currently account for about 80 percent of the global energy mix, could drop to 73 percent by 2030.

Despite seemingly positive developments, more than the anticipated reduction in fossil fuel usage will be needed to maintain the 1.5-degree limit set in the Paris Agreement. This shortfall forecasts a world 2.5-3 degrees warmer by the end of the century, potentially causing dramatic shifts in global weather patterns.

The prospect of such a future has led some billionaires to prepare private refuges. Reports suggest that Meta CEO is constructing an extensive complex with an underground bunker in Hawaii. Other affluent figures also have contingencies but prefer to keep details private. As speculation around these preparations grows, whether such measures echo valid concerns or are baseless paranoias arises.