NewsThe AI Revolution Has a Problem: Energy

The AI Revolution Has a Problem: Energy

Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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By Irina Slav – Apr 10, 2024, 6:00 PM CDT

  • EQT CEO Rice: growth in AI use would require an expansion of gas generation capacity.
  • On the one hand, artificial intelligence promises to help advance the transition on the other, it is clearly hindering the progress of that transition by posing an energy demand question that only hydrocarbons can answer.
  • Dutch Scientist finds that global electricity use of AI globally could exceed 85 TWh annually.

Tech

Artificial intelligence is helping the oil and gas industry boost output by accelerating drilling and boosting efficiency. It offers similar gains to other industries as well and online platforms and websites with AI-powered chatbots are multiplying fast. But there is a problem. AI consumes massive amounts of electricity.

A New Yorker article from last month cited the number half a million kilowatt-hours. Per day. That’s the electricity consumption of ChatGPT to handle the two hundred million requests it gets daily. That’s a lot of electricity. And that’s just one AI program.

According to one Dutch scientist who has calculated the potential electricity use of AI technology globally, it could reach a staggering 85 terrawatt-hours. Annually. And that’s the lower end of the range. The higher end is 134 terrawatt-hours or 134 billion kilowatt-hours.

“You would be talking about the size of a country like the Netherlands in terms of electricity consumption. You’re talking about half a per cent of our total global electricity consumption,” Alex De Vries told the BBC last year when a study he authored about the electricity appetite of AI hit headlines.

Needless to say, this sort of additional demand cannot be satisfied by wind and solar, as De Vries himself acknowledges. “We need fusion or we need, like, radically cheaper solar plus storage, or something, at massive scale—like, a scale that no one is really planning for,” De Vries told the New Yorker this March. Alternatively, gas consumption for electricity generation—and quite likely coal consumption—will rise to satisfy this demand.

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a staunch supporter of the energy transition, put it even more succinctly: “We’re not going to build 100 gigawatts of new renewables in a few years. You’re kind of stuck,” he said last month in comments on AI’s energy needs, as quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

It’s all because of the enormous amounts of information AI programs need to process to perform a task. De Vries has calculated that if Google switches its search engine to generative AI, the electricity consumption of that search engine would shoot up to 29 TWh per year. And that’s just Google, which started trialing AI-powered searches in the UK earlier this month.

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