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New World Order
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Title: AI is exhausting the power grid. Tech firms are seeking a miracle solution.
Source: Washington ComPost
URL Source: https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/tec ... a-miracle-solution/ar-BB1oDl5z
Published: Jun 21, 2024
Author: Evan Halper, Caroline O'Donovan
Post Date: 2024-06-21 09:15:38 by Mudboy Slim
Keywords: None
Views: 116

The mighty Columbia River has helped power the American West with hydroelectricity since the days of FDR’s New Deal. But the artificial intelligence revolution will demand more. Much more. So near the river’s banks in Central Washington, Microsoft is betting on an effort to generate power from atomic fusion — the collision of atoms that powers the sun — a breakthrough that has eluded scientists for the past century. Physicists predict it will elude Microsoft, too.

The tech giant and its partners say they expect to harness fusion by 2028, an audacious claim that bolsters their promises to transition to green energy but distracts from current reality. In fact, the voracious electricity consumption of artificial intelligence is driving an expansion of fossil fuel use — including delaying the retirement of some coal-fired plants.

In the face of this dilemma, Big Tech is going all in on experimental clean-energy projects that have long odds of success anytime soon. In addition to fusion, they are hoping to generate power through such futuristic schemes as small nuclear reactors hooked to individual computing centers and machinery that taps geothermal energy by boring 10,000 feet into the Earth’s crust.

Tech companies had promised “clean energy would be this magical, infinite resource,” said Tamara Kneese, a project director at the nonprofit Data & Society, which tracks the effect of AI and accuses the tech industry of using “fuzzy math” in its climate claims.

“Coal plants are being reinvigorated because of the AI boom,” Kneese said. “This should be alarming to anyone who cares about the environment.” As the tech giants compete in a global AI arms race, a frenzy of data center construction is sweeping the country. Some computing campuses require as much energy as a modest-sized city, turning tech firms that promised to lead the way into a clean energy future into some of the world’s most insatiable guzzlers of power. Their projected energy needs are so huge, some worry whether there will be enough electricity to meet them from any source.

Data centers, the nondescript warehouses packed with racks of servers that power the modern internet, have been around for decades. But the amount of electricity they need now is soaring because of AI. Training artificial intelligence models and using AI to execute even simple tasks involves ever more complicated, faster and voluminous computations that are straining the electricity system.

A ChatGPT-powered search on Google, according to the International Energy Agency, consumes almost 10 times the amount of electricity as a traditional search. One large data center complex in Iowa owned by Meta burns the annual equivalent amount of power as 7 million laptops running eight hours every day, based on data shared publicly by the company.

The data-center-driven resurgence in fossil fuel power contrasts starkly with the sustainability commitments of tech giants Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Meta, all of which say they will erase their emissions entirely as soon as 2030. The companies are the most prominent players in a constellation of more than 2,700 data centers nationwide, many of them run by more obscure firms that rent out computing power to the tech giants.

“They are starting to think like cement and chemical plants. The ones who have approached us are agnostic as to where the power is coming from,” said Ganesh Sakshi, chief financial officer of Mountain V Oil & Gas, which provides natural gas to industrial customers in Eastern states.

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