Google’s emissions climb almost 50%

Published On: July 4, 2024

Tech giant’s goal of reducing climate footprint at risk as it grows increasingly reliant on energy-hungry data centres

According to a recent report, Google’s carbon footprint has increased by nearly 50% in the past five years, largely due to the energy demands of its rapidly expanding artificial intelligence (AI) infrastructure.

The company’s data centers and other facilities now consume a significant amount of energy to power its AI systems, which are used for tasks such as language processing, and image recognition.

The Guardian: Google said electricity consumption by data centres and supply chain emissions were the primary cause of the increase. It also revealed in its annual environmental report that its emissions in 2023 had risen 13% compared with the previous year, hitting 14.3m metric tons.

As AI continues to become increasingly ubiquitous, it’s likely that energy consumption will continue to rise, making it essential for Google and other tech companies to prioritize sustainable energy solutions and reduce their environmental impact.

Google’s ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030 is being threatened by its increasing reliance on energy-intensive data centers to support the development and deployment of its artificial intelligence (AI) products.

As AI requires massive amounts of computing power, Google’s data centers are consuming more energy than ever before, offsetting some of the company’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint through renewable energy investments and other sustainability initiatives.

Google’s emissions have risen by nearly 50% since 2019, the base year for Google’s goal of reaching net zero, which requires the company removing as much CO2 as it emits.

The Guardian: The International Energy Agency estimates that data centres’ total electricity consumption could double from 2022 levels to 1,000TWh (terawatt hours) in 2026, approximately Japan’s level of electricity demand. AI will result in data centres using 4.5% of global energy generation by 2030, according to calculations by research firm SemiAnalysis.

Data centres play a crucial role in training and operating the models that underpin AI models like Google’s Gemini and OpenAI’s GPT-4, which powers the ChatGPT chatbot. Microsoft admitted this year that energy use related to its data centres was endangering its “moonshot” target of being carbon negative by 2030. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, admitted in May that “the moon has moved” due to the company’s AI strategy.

Microsoft’s co-founder, Bill Gates, said last week that AI would help combat the climate crisis because big tech is “seriously willing” to pay extra to use clean electricity sources in order “to say that they’re using green energy”.

Big tech companies have become major purchasers of renewable energy in a bid to meet their climate goals.

However, pledges to reduce CO2 emissions are now coming up against pledges to invest heavily in AI products that require considerable amounts of energy for training and deployment in data centres, along with carbon emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting the computer servers and chips used in that process. Water usage is another environmental factor in the AI boom, with one study estimating that AI could account for up to 6.6bn cubic metres of water use by 2027 – nearly two-thirds of England’s annual consumption.

About the Author: Climate State
Climate State
Climate State covers the broad spectrum of climate change, and the solutions, since 2011 with the focus on the sciences. Climate State – we endorse data, facts, empirical evidence.
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