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Google’s Greenhouse Emissions Climbed Nearly 50% in Five Years

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has announced that it will terminate 12,000 jobs
Google’s latest environmental report reveals that its greenhouse emissions have increased by nearly 50% in the last 5 years. Credit: The Pancake of Heaven! / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Google faces challenges in reducing its impact on the climate as it expands its energy-intensive data centers to support new artificial intelligence projects. The company disclosed on Tuesday that its greenhouse gas emissions have surged by 48 percent in the last five years.

Based on Google’s latest environmental report, the main reasons for this increase are the rising electricity use in its data centers and emissions from its supply chain. In 2023 alone, the company’s emissions rose by 13 percent compared to the previous year, totaling 14.3 million metric tons.

The tech company, known for its significant investments in AI, acknowledged that achieving its “extremely ambitious” goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2030 will be challenging. It highlighted “significant uncertainty” in meeting this target, particularly due to the complex and unpredictable environmental impact of AI in the future.

Data centers’ electricity consumption likely to double by 2026

The International Energy Agency predicts that electricity use by data centers could double by 2026, reaching 1,000 terawatt hours, similar to Japan’s electricity demand. The research firm SemiAnalysis said that AI could cause data centers to use 4.5 percent of global energy by 2030.

Data centers are essential for training and running AI models like Google’s Gemini and OpenAI’s GPT-4, which powers the ChatGPT chatbot. Microsoft also acknowledged this year that its data centers’ energy use threatens its goal of being carbon-negative by 2030.

Google’s 2023 emissions jumped 50% since 2019 and 15% year over year as AI ramps.

Big opportunity for clean, firm power generation and storage. The AI train has left the station and we shouldn’t slow it down. pic.twitter.com/YiELHvtUiY

— Kevin Stevens 🔋⚡️ (@kevindstevens) July 3, 2024

In May, Microsoft President Brad Smith stated that their AI strategy has made this goal even more challenging, saying, “The moon has moved.”

Last week, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates expressed optimism that AI will aid in combatting the climate crisis. He noted that major tech companies are “seriously willing” to pay more for clean electricity to ensure they are using green energy.

Tech companies among major purchasers of renewable energy

Large tech companies are increasingly buying renewable energy to fulfill their climate commitments. However, these efforts to reduce CO2 emissions are running into challenges due to substantial investments in AI products.

The technologies demand significant energy for their training and deployment in data centers, as well as for manufacturing and transporting computer servers and chips involved.

Another environmental concern in the AI industry is water usage. One study projects that AI could consume up to 6.6 billion cubic meters of water by 2027. This is nearly two-thirds of England’s annual consumption.

For the fourth consecutive year, Amazon holds the title of the world’s largest purchaser of renewable energy. In January 2024, Amazon signed a corporate power purchase agreement (CPPA) with ENGIE. The agreement boosts Amazon’s share of the output from Ocean Winds’ Moray West offshore wind farm in Scotland to 473MW.

When operational later this year, this wind farm will generate enough energy to power over 650,000 UK homes annually. Ocean Winds is a joint venture between EDP Renewables and ENGIE, focusing on offshore wind energy, according to Amazon.

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