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How Big Tech Is Consuming America’s Electricity and Water
Epoch Times ^ | April 18, 2024 | Kevin Stocklin

Posted on 04/19/2024 5:36:07 PM PDT by george76

As federal net-zero policies attempt to shift transportation, heating, and other essentials onto the electric grid, one of the hottest growth sectors of America’s economy is poised to increase electricity demand exponentially, further straining an energy infrastructure that is being pushed into the red.

Data centers, the so-called “brains of the internet,” are industrial warehouses packed with rows upon rows of servers. They process, communicate, and store the data behind everything from bank records, online retailers, and social media platforms to Netflix shows and your personal iPhone videos.

“Data centers are essential to cloud computing and its ability to give users remote access to data,” a 2023 Federal Reserve report states, quoting a Science article that calls them the “information backbone of an increasingly digitalized world.”

Many analysts laud data centers as one of the fastest-growing sectors of the real estate market, but the industry may soon find itself hitting a wall as local communities put up increasing resistance to the industry’s seemingly insatiable appetite for power and water.

“While other commercial real estate sectors are experiencing a decline in construction pipelines, data center development has reached an all-time high,” according to a January report by Newmark, a commercial real estate advisory.

“However, growth is increasingly constrained by land and power availability, supply chain challenges and construction delays, not to mention increasing resistance from some local jurisdictions.”

The report said the rapid growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies is fueling the demand.

The industry is led by cloud computing behemoths like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and Meta. It also includes digital landlords, called co-location companies, which rent storage space out to third parties. These include Equinix, Digital Realty, and CyrusOne.

Electricity Demand From Data to Double by 2030..

Data warehouses consumed 17 gigawatts of electricity in 2022, or about 4 percent of total U.S. consumption. This is projected to double to 35 gigawatts by 2030.

Eric Woodell, who holds a doctorate of science in information systems and communications and is the founder of Amerruss, a tech infrastructure management company, referred to data centers as “energy hogs.”

“But now your data center for AI applications is no longer a hog, it’s an elephant and it’s living in your backyard,” he told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Woodell has been managing data centers for 25 years, formerly for Vanguard, the world’s second-largest asset manager.

A mere 10-foot-square space within the average data center consumes about 10 times as much electricity as the average home,


“While conventional data centers are already pulling an enormous amount of power, AI computing doesn’t use CPUs [central processing units], but GPU-based systems instead, as the GPUs [graphics processing units] are tailored to better handle complex mathematical functions,” he said. “But there’s a catch: they draw between five and 10 times more power than similarly equipped CPU systems.”

This hefty increase in electricity demand strains a grid that is already predicted to feature power shortages and routine rolling blackouts in the coming years. This is due to more demands being placed on the grid at a time when utilities are aggressively shutting down coal and gas plants in their transition to wind and solar energy.

According to a February case study of one large regional electric utility, PJM, by Quanta Technologies, the next several years will feature “equipment overloads that trigger as much as 6,826 MW of load shedding during average winter peak demand.”

Load shedding means cutting power to consumers, also known as blackouts, to prevent a system collapse.


PJM forecasts new data center load growth of 7,500 MW by 2028, while deactivating 11,100 MW of fossil fuel production, leaving an 18.6 Gigawatt gap between new demand and remaining supply in this sector, according to Mr. Woodell.

“18.6 Gigawatts would power roughly 3 million homes or New York City three times over,” he stated. “The ramifications are massive.”

Data Center Alley..

Globally, data centers consume about 3 percent of the world’s electricity, according to Ryan Yonk, an economist at the American Institute for Economic Research. This consumption tends to be steady and predictable, and utilities can expand to accommodate it, he said.

However, problems arise when centers become concentrated in a single area, especially if that area is transitioning away from fossil fuels.


The problem for local communities is that, once a municipality approves the development, the electric utility must build new power generation and transmission lines to service that development. The cost of this new infrastructure is largely borne by the community in the form of higher electric bills for all ratepayers.

“When we pay our electric bills each month, you’re giving a huge subsidy to multibillion-dollar companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Apple,” the PEC report states.

As a result, data centers are increasingly facing local resistance when they try to build new facilities.


Searching for New Places to Build..

Consequently, developers have started looking elsewhere in search of land, cheap energy, and abundant groundwater. Target locations include Atlanta, Georgia, and Columbus, Ohio. Cheyenne, Wyoming has also approved significant data center development.

Data center developers are also seeking locations abroad. The BBC reported in June of 2023 that data centers used about one-fifth of all electricity in the Republic of Ireland, the equivalent of the electricity used in all the country’s urban districts combined.

Energy consumption in Ireland by these data warehouses increased 31 percent from 2021 to 2022, and by 400 percent since 2015


In Europe and in the UK they’ve basically put moratoriums in place on any new data center builds because there’s just not enough power.”

And the drain on local resources goes beyond electricity, it includes water usage as well.

Data centers concentrate a significant amount of power in a small space, generating more heat than air cooling alone can mitigate. Consequently, they consume enormous amounts of groundwater to keep the servers from overheating.


Google, for example, reported that it consumed 5.6 billion gallons of water in 2022, primarily to cool its data centers. This was a 20 percent increase over what it used in 2021.

The Fed report stated that the data center industry ranked among the 10 largest industries for water consumption in 2021.


Typically, he said, on top of the electricity used to power the computers, an additional 40 percent on average is required to cool them. This puts an additional strain on electric grids and consumes enormous volumes of local groundwater in the process.

Can Data Centers Thrive Under the Sea?

Companies like Microsoft, Subsea Cloud, and some Chinese competitors believe that they have found a solution: sink data centers offshore inside deep-water pods.

These companies have developed new technologies that can house data centers in coastal waters, thousands of feet below the surface.


The normal operating temperature of a computer chip is above 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit), so that even in tropical waters “you still have a difference between the water and the chip that’s so big, it will transfer this heat away from the chips without spending any energy to do it,” Mr. Williams said.

However, where Microsoft has constructed data tanks with five-inch thick steel walls to keep deep-sea pressure from crushing the tanks, Subsea Cloud fills its tanks with a patented non-corrosive fluid, using solid-state drives that can function in a liquid environment. This serves two functions.


“Number one, it’s transferring the heat very efficiently,” Mr. Williams said. “Number two, it’s maintaining a pressure inside of the pod that is equal to the outside.” This requires the walls of the undersea pods to be only one-quarter of an inch thick.

While it took some convincing to get tech companies to consider an underwater alternative, the demand for undersea pods is “huge at the moment,” he said.

“We are very lucky to be in a spot where very large companies are talking to us—and governments, too. The fact is that it doesn’t look like the world population wants to scale back on the use of electronics and AI and all of that.”

Submersible data pods may help to reduce the land, electricity, and groundwater required to feed the growing demand from data centers, but ultimately the global data industry will still need vast amounts of power to fuel its growth, which will continue to strain power grids.

Mr. Woodell says that one day soon, the tech industry will have to either innovate dramatic new efficiencies in data processing or face practical and regulatory roadblocks to further growth.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: bigtech; electricgrid; electricity; energy; infrastructure; netzero; water

1 posted on 04/19/2024 5:36:07 PM PDT by george76
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To: george76


2 posted on 04/19/2024 5:51:00 PM PDT by Southside_Chicago_Republican (God save the United States!)
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To: george76

Said another way windmills and solar panels won’t do the job. Not too sure this will even be a country at the end of the decade at the rate we’re going anyway.

3 posted on 04/19/2024 5:54:04 PM PDT by quantim (Victory is not relative, it is absolute. )
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To: george76

Big data/tech needs its own electrical generators.

4 posted on 04/19/2024 5:54:56 PM PDT by linMcHlp
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To: george76

This was derived from a satire article, that unfortunately I cannot find.

but of course like the Bee there is some truthiness.

I have been alive for the whole curve, since the valves gave way to mosfets, to chip packaged transistors.

a while ago someone gave me an Amd MI200 AI card to play with.

Probably should make my own Free-Ai when I get some time.

Unfortunately I don’t know how to raise an AI.

5 posted on 04/19/2024 5:56:14 PM PDT by algore
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To: george76

Heating up the near-shore oceans. What could possibly go wrong?

But of course they’ll blame the ecological damage on climate change from “fossil fuel use”.

6 posted on 04/19/2024 5:58:38 PM PDT by HartleyMBaldwin
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To: george76

Mining digital coin is a huge power draw.

7 posted on 04/19/2024 6:25:24 PM PDT by Openurmind (The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children. ~ D. Bonhoeffer)
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To: algore

“... for the whole curve, since the valves gave way to mosfets, to chip packaged transistors”

I like that! Quite a curve! Now a terabit thumb drive. A gig of internet speed to your home. Wireless communication between all of us at video speed, anywhere. Huge 4k TV screens for less than $1000.

Now we learn that our data centers are gobbling power. Add to that the gobbling by the billions of electronic gadgets owned by all of us.

8 posted on 04/19/2024 6:50:00 PM PDT by cymbeline
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To: cymbeline

9 posted on 04/19/2024 7:30:02 PM PDT by algore
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To: george76

Plug in a supercomputer.

Tear down a dam.

What could possibly go wrong?

10 posted on 04/19/2024 7:56:38 PM PDT by Uncle Miltie (DEI = Didn't Earn It!)
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To: algore

“Valves” — you HAVE been around a long time. That’s a real archaic term for vacuum tubes.

11 posted on 04/19/2024 7:57:46 PM PDT by ProtectOurFreedom (“When exposing a crime is treated like a crime, you are being ruled by criminals” – Edward SnowdenA)
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To: linMcHlp

Data centers + Electric vehicles + Windmills & solar panels + No battery backup + Gobble water + Destroy dams/coal/gas/nuke power = a failing equation.

12 posted on 04/19/2024 8:24:01 PM PDT by citizen (Put all LBQTwhatever programming on a new subscription service: PERV-TThose look good)
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To: Openurmind

Very true, although few want to admit it.

13 posted on 04/19/2024 10:08:23 PM PDT by Bob Wills is still the king (Just a Texas Playboy at heart)
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To: george76

Putting the entire DC underwater is an interesting idea. Problems is, all that heat being pumped into the water is going to eventually cause algae blooms. The environmental wackos are going to go ape-shit about that.

One would think there would be ways to put all that generated heat to doing useful work, like perhaps generating some electricity that can be used to reduce the load on the grid that a datacenter introduces.

14 posted on 04/20/2024 8:13:21 AM PDT by zeugma (Stop deluding yourself that America is still a free country.)
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