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National Grid CEO forecasts energy surge driven by AI and quantum computing

Written by Wed 27 Mar 2024

The UK National Grid has predicted that quantum computing and artificial intelligence (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 2020 as heat, transport, and industry continue to electrify.

“Future growth in foundational technologies like AI and quantum computing will mean larger scale, energy-intensive computing infrastructure,” said Pettigrew in a LinkedIn post

Pettigrew said the UK is at a ‘pivotal moment’ considering the increasing constraints on the current ‘supergrid’.

“A moment in time that requires innovative thinking and bold actions to create a transmission network for tomorrow’s future,” added Pettigrew.

The National Grid boss said the company is looking towards the strategic spatial energy plan, it also needs to ‘take a collective step back’ and consider where there are alternative long-term approaches to build a grid that is ‘fit not just for the next 20 years, but for the next 60’.

National Grid Proposes Onshore Transmission Network

One approach the National Grid thinks has potential is the construction of an ultra-high voltage onshore transmission network of up to 800,000 volts. 

This would be superimposed on the existing supergrid and will enable bulk power transfer around the country, with strategically located ultra-high capacity substations, supporting the connection of big energy sources to big demand centres via the new network.

“This model consolidates infrastructure by connecting the larger capacity hubs in the places they are most needed. It is both a strategic and proactive approach instead of today’s incremental, tactical, and reactive one,” said Pettigrew.

Potential for Network to Transition to Capacity Hubs

Pettigrew also noted transitioning from scattered individual connection projects to central capacity hubs would streamline investment allocation. These high-capacity substations will feature spare connection points for new users and adaptable customer connections.

Pettigrew said this approach builds upon existing infrastructure by overlaying an ultra-fast ‘backbone’ onto the current transmission network, enabling more efficient construction and enhancing value for consumers through targeted and coordinated investments. 

It also reinforces the network’s resilience. By addressing immediate needs and accommodating future growth, this strategy hopes to ensure a robust capacity-rich network. 

The surplus network capacity aims to enable economic opportunities that might otherwise be constrained by a transmission network nearing full capacity. 

This proposal complements ongoing infrastructure projects and investments, including The Great Grid Upgrade and underscores the need for reform in the connections process, a collaborative effort with Ofgem, the ESO, and industry stakeholders.

“What I have set out is a vision for the future and how we can transform our electricity network to make the country’s economic growth ambitions possible. And the time is right to think beyond tomorrow,” said Pettigrew.

In November, a report by Pure Storage and Wakefield Research found most organisations lack the infrastructure to handle the data demands and energy requirements for AI.

The report found 88% of IT buyers who have embraced AI are experiencing a significant increase in the demand for computing power.  A total of 73% of IT buyers were unprepared for AI’s energy needs. The same percentage of IT buyers said AI requires or will require data management upgrades of some kind. 

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Written by Wed 27 Mar 2024

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