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The high-energy use of new technologies could delay the coal phase-out in the US. AI is driving this trend.

Some US states are delaying plans to close coal-fired power plants because of the huge demand for electricity from new technologies, the Financial Times reports. The growing demand for electricity from AI, crypto-mining and cloud services is reportedly forcing the US to rely on the old energy source coal for longer.

Operators are worried about the stability of the grid and see demand for electricity rising. By the late 2020s, 54 gigawatts of coal are expected to go offline, about 4% of the country's total electricity capacity and 40% less than predicted last year.

Power demand for data centers could double by 2030, accounting for about 9% of total U.S. electricity demand, according to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute. ChatGPT alone could consume nearly 10 times as much electricity as Google searches, the International Energy Agency estimates.

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Simply delaying a shutdown date doesn't mean the plants will be used, notes Seth Feaster of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Coal's share of U.S. electricity has dropped from 40% in 2014 to 16% in 2023, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

OpenAI CEO hopes for nuclear innovation

Training and running generative AI models takes a lot of computing power. Data centers for generative AI systems also need lots of fresh water to cool the processors and make electricity, says Kate Crawford, a researcher at USC Annenberg and Microsoft Research. By 2027, global water use for AI could equal half of the UK's use.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman doesn't even try to hide the fact that developing ever more capable AI models will require huge amounts of energy and a breakthrough in energy production. He sees fusion energy, specifically nuclear fusion, as a possible answer.

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Summary
  • Due to the increasing demand for electricity from AI, crypto mining and cloud services, some US states are reportedly delaying plans to shut down coal-fired power plants.
  • According to studies, data center electricity demand will double by 2030, accounting for approximately nine percent of total U.S. electricity demand, with ChatGPT alone estimated to consume nearly ten times as much electricity as Google Search.
  • In addition to high-energy demands, data centers for generative AI systems also require large amounts of fresh water to cool processors and generate electricity.
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Online journalist Matthias is the co-founder and publisher of THE DECODER. He believes that artificial intelligence will fundamentally change the relationship between humans and computers.
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