How Big Tech Is Consuming America’s Electricity And Water

May 5, 2024

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, he said.

The NSA’s Utah data collection center has Salt Lake City in the background, in Bluffdale, Utah, on March 17, 2017. The $1.5 billion data center is thought to be the worlds largest

“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 serves a dozen eastern Mid-Atlantic states as a wholesale provider.

“The analysis reveals the expected overload of 30 bulk transmission facilities (230 kV and higher) in the 2028 summer due primarily to high load growth associated mostly with new data centers,” the report states.


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