AI and Quantum Computing to Drive Data Centre Power

With National Grid’s Group CEO predicting data centre power usage to increase six-fold in the next decade, we examine the role of AI and quantum computing

This week, the UK National Grid predicted that the recent boom in artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing will drive a spike in energy use.

Both technologies are relatively new and rely heavily on data centres, which consist of warehouses full of computer systems. The surge, according to National Grid Group CEO John Pettigrew, will cause data centre power usage in data centres to increase “six-fold” in the next ten years.

“Future growth in foundational technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing will mean larger scale, energy-intensive computing infrastructure,” he said in a recent LinkedIn post. “There will be an increasing shift towards heat pumps and electric vehicles and so, as we consider the increasing constraints on the current ‘supergrid’, we’re once again at a pivotal moment. 

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

Why is AI and quantum computing so important?

Quantum computing is a rapidly-emerging technology that uses quantum mechanics to solve problems that are too complex for classical computers. They process data very differently to regular computers and can complete complex calculations very quickly.

Whilst the use of quantum computing is still experimental, the technology has been hailed as a triumph within the digital transformation landscape as businesses like IBM for example will hopefully go on to use them to solve problems that do not exist yet.

As the technology continues to develop, these computers in the future could secure scientific breakthroughs and advance more secure methods of communication - something that is very important in a rapidly changing digital age.

“Future growth in foundational technologies like AI and quantum computing will mean larger scale, energy-intensive computing infrastructure,” John comments.

As this technology develops quickly, AI remains at the forefront of enterprise-leading transformation. AI technology can be incredibly positive for data centres, with its ability to improve data processing, security and storage.

However, as it has advanced so quickly, businesses continue to be very keen to invest in its potential. This has ultimately led to a huge surge in power demands for customers, causing data centres to re-evaluate their approach to sustainability.

Sustainability: A need for speed

With data centres more power-hungry than ever before, companies risk struggling to make good on their sustainability pledges. In fact, the data centre industry already accounts for roughly 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions - a figure that is only expected to grow.

Data centre operators are therefore under immense pressure to deliver on Net Zero emissions by 2050, in order to remain in line with global targets. In order to continue harnessing AI and quantum computing to its full potential, without draining the grid, industry leaders will need to deliver upgrades to current infrastructure to meet demand.

This will need to be achieved in a sustainable way by connecting to renewable energy sources moving forward.

“Expanding the network incrementally inevitably means there will be limits on how much can be built, how quickly it can be built and where,” John says. “We are at a moment in time that requires innovative thinking and bold actions to create a transmission network for tomorrow's future.”

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