AI Energy Demand: Google Carbon Rises Nearly 50% In 5 Years

Pledges to reduce carbon emissions are contradictory to plans to invest in AI products.

Google in 2021 shared plans to eliminate carbon emissions from its operations by 2030, but artificial intelligence (AI) infused in all aspects of its business from media buying to serving ads, and analytics and reporting continues to make it more difficult to accomplish the goals. 

Energy-hungry data centers to power its AI products have put a drag on Google's plans. The company revealed Tuesday that its greenhouse gas emissions have climbed 48% during the past five years, citing increases in data-center energy consumption and supply-chain emissions.

“While our reduction efforts are crucial, they alone won’t get us all the way to our net zero goal,” the company wrote in its annual report. One uncertain  factor with regard to whether the company will reach its goal resides in the “future environmental impact of AI, which is complex and difficult to predict.”



Its data centers have a critical role to play. They support its AI models such as Google’s Gemini and OpenAI’s GPT-4 that powers ChatGPT.

Google is not the first major technology company to cite the rapid growth of AI as an obstacle to achieving environmental goals. In May, Microsoft said its carbon emissions climbed 30% since 2020, as the company increasingly invested in AI.

The increase made the target of getting to below net-zero emissions by 2030 more difficult than it was when it announced its carbon-neutral goal. 

Since then, Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder, $1 billion to save AI-powered advertising and other services.

Gates' company, TerraPower, recently broke ground on his latest project, a nuclear power plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming to help power online advertising. The power plant will be smaller than traditional fission nuclear power plants, and use sodium instead of water to cool the reactor’s core.

Big technology companies such as Amazon have made major purchases of renewable energy. The projects are moving Amazon closer to having the goal of 100% of the electricity powering its operations be attributable to renewable energy sources by 2025.

Amazon -- which uses a lot of AI technology across most of its business units -- said it invested in more than 100 new solar and wind energy projects in 2023, becoming the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy for the fourth year in a row.

One investment -- the company’s first brownfield project announced in January -- is intended to repurpose a previously polluted Maryland coal mine site into a solar farm.

In a post from June 25, 2024, Amazon Web Services said it can help reduce carbon footprint of AI workloads by up to 99%. 

The report, "Moving onto The AWS Cloud Reduces Carbon Emissions," estimates that AWS’s infrastructure is up to 4.1 times more efficient than on-premises systems, which refers to organizations running hardware and software within their own physical space, and 85% of global IT spend by organizations remains on-premises.

It’s definitely a catch 22.

Enjoy your July 4 holiday. See you back here on Friday, and try not to think too much about the emissions that barbecues emit. It will ruin your independence day off. 

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