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EPRI Report Examines Power Demand from Data Centers, Artificial Intelligence

A new report from the Electric Power Research Institute examines power demand from the deployment of artificial intelligence and data centers.

n the United States, powering data centers, providing clean energy for manufacturing, supporting industrial onshoring, and electrifying transportation are driving renewed electric load growth, EPRI notes in the report.

“Clusters of new, large point loads are testing the ability of electric companies to keep pace,” it noted.

Data centers are one of the fastest growing industries worldwide. Between 2017 and 2021, electricity used by Meta, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google -- the main providers of commercially available cloud computing and digital services -- more than doubled.

“A fundamental uncertainty in projecting data center load growth comes from the broad emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in business and daily life -- punctuated by the explosion into public consciousness of generative AI models, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, released in November 2022,” the report said.

While AI applications are estimated to use only 10%–20% of data center electricity today, that percentage is growing rapidly.

AI models are typically much more energy-intensive than the data retrieval, streaming, and communications applications that drove data center growth over the past two decades. At 2.9 watt-hours per ChatGPT request,

“AI queries are estimated to require 10x the electricity of traditional Google queries, which use about 0.3 watt-hours each; and emerging, computation-intensive capabilities such as image, audio, and video generation have no precedent,” EPRI said.

To provide an early assessment of potential data center load growth at the national level, EPRI has developed low, moderate, high, and higher growth scenarios for data center loads from 2023 to 2030.

Data centers grow to consume 4.6% to 9.1% of U.S. electricity generation annually by 2030 versus an estimated 4% today.

“While the national-level growth estimates are significant, it is even more striking to consider the geographic concentration of the industry and the local challenges this growth can create,” EPRI said.

Today, fifteen states account for 80% of the national data center load, with data centers estimated to comprise a quarter of Virginia’s electric load in 2023. Concentration of demand is also evident globally, with data centers projected to make up almost one-third of Ireland’s total electricity demand by 2026, the report said.

“With the shift to cloud computing and AI, new data centers are growing in size. It is not unusual to see new centers being built with capacities from 100 to 1,000 megawatts --roughly equivalent to the load from 80,000 to 800,000 homes. Connection lead times of one to two years, demands for highly reliable power, and requests for power from new, non-emitting generation sources can create local and regional electric supply challenges.”

In the report, EPRI highlights three essential strategies to support rapid data center expansion:

  • Data center efficiency improvements and increased flexibility.
  • Close coordination between data center developers and electric companies regarding data center power needs, timing, and flexibility, as well as electric supplies and delivery constraints.
  • Better modeling tools to plan the 5–10+ year grid investments needed to anticipate and accommodate data center growth without negatively impacting other customers and to identify strategies for maintaining grid reliability with these large, novel demands.
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