Google’s emissions surge by 48pc amid AI boom

   2024-07-03 10:07

Google has noted that the rapid advancement of AI has brought attention to the tech’s energy consumption and said it ‘won’t be easy’ to reach its net-zero 2030 goal.

Google’s carbon emissions have grown by nearly 50pc compared to 2019 levels, highlighting the energy concerns associated with the global focus on AI technology.

That’s according to the tech giant’s latest environmental report, which showed the company’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for 2023 were the equivalent of 14.3m tonnes of CO2 – a 13pc increase compared to 2022.

Google attributed this increase to a rise in energy consumed by its data centres and supply chain emissions – the company’s data centre electricity consumption grew by 17pc last year. But the company also claimed that its data centres maintained a “100pc global renewable energy match”.

In its report, Google referenced estimates from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that data centres account for between 1pc and 1.5pc of global electricity demand. The search giant noted that the rapid advancement of AI has “brought necessary increased attention to its energy consumption and resource demands”.

“Overall, our total GHG emissions increased by 13pc – highlighting the challenge of reducing emissions while compute intensity increases and we grow our technical infrastructure investment to support this AI transition,” Google said. “Predicting the future environmental impact of AI is complex and evolving, and our historical trends likely don’t fully capture AI’s future trajectory.”

The rise in emissions marks a new challenge for the company’s goal to reach net zero emissions by 2030. Google described the goal as “extremely ambitious” and said that it “won’t be easy”. But the tech giant also claimed that AI can play a “critical enabling role” in helping the world to reach a “low-carbon future” by aiding in tasks such as weather prediction, optimising energy use, data analysis and monitoring capabilities.

The rapid growth of data centres

There have been growing concerns about the rise of data centres, which are vital to feed powerful AI models with vast amounts of data.

An IEA report from earlier this year warned that the electricity consumption from data centres, AI and the cryptocurrency sector could double by 2026. This report predicts that data centres could be equivalent to the entire electricity consumption of Japan by 2026 – a country with a population of more than 123m.

Meanwhile, Google is continuing to expand its data centre empire and recently revealed plans to expand its capacity in Dublin’s Grange Castle Business Park, where it already has two data centres.

The strain of data centres on Ireland’s energy grid has been a concern for years now, as data centres are predicted to consume nearly a third of Ireland’s total electricity by 2026.

In 2022, South Dublin County Council voted to ban any further data centre developments and claimed there was a lack of capacity in the region. But this decision was ordered to be reversed later that year by the Irish Government. Various data centres have been granted planning permission in south Dublin since then.

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