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Google reports 48% rise in emissions due to AI demand

Written by Wed 3 Jul 2024

Image Credit: Reuters

Google has revealed that its greenhouse gas emissions in 2023 were 48% higher than in 2019.

In its latest Environmental Report,Google stated that total GHG emissions for the year reached 14.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. 

Google has attributed this rise to the increasing amounts of energy required by its data centres amid the boom of artificial intelligence (AI), and supply chain emissions. Google said it expected emissions to rise before they start to decline.

AI-powered services require significantly more computing power and electricity than standard online activities, raising concerns about their environmental impact. 

Google aims to reach net zero emissions by 2030 but acknowledged that further integrating AI into their products may make reducing emissions challenging due to AI compute and the emissions associated with the expected increases in its technical infrastructure investment.

“Reaching net-zero emissions by 2030 is an extremely ambitious goal and we know it will not be easy. Our approach will continue to evolve and will require us to navigate significant uncertainty,” said Google in the report.

Google added this included the uncertainty around the future environmental impact of AI, which is complex and difficult to predict. The company noted that solutions for some key global challenges ‘do not currently exist and will depend heavily on the broader clean energy transition’.

Google has invested heavily in AI and has acknowledged that ‘scaling AI and using it to accelerate climate action is just as crucial as addressing the environmental impact associated with it’.

However, Google said that AI has the potential to help mitigate 5-10% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. Google highlighted the technology’s ‘immense promise’ to drive climate action through better information organisation, prediction, and optimisation. 

Data Centre Energy Disparities

The International Energy Agency projected that data centres’ electricity consumption could double to 1,000TWh by 2026. By 2030, AI is expected to drive data centres to consume 4.5% of global energy generation, as calculated by SemiAnalysis.

To curb this, major tech companies have become significant purchasers of renewable energy to meet their climate goals.

Google’s report highlights significant global disparities in the impact of its data centres. Most facilities in Europe and the Americas use primarily carbon-free energy, whereas those in the Middle East, Asia, and Australia rely much less on such sources. Overall, about two-thirds of Google’s energy comes from carbon-free sources.

In March, The UK National Grid predicted quantum computing and AI will cause a surge in energy use. The CEO of the National Grid, John Pettigrew, said the power usage in data centres will increase six-fold in the next ten years.  

Pettigrew said demand on the grid is ‘growing dramatically’, and is forecast to double by 2030 as heat, transport, and industry continue to electrify.

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Written by Wed 3 Jul 2024

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