The big hype about AI

ai hype

What’s the big hype about Ai, Supercomputers, Cryptocurrency mining, high performance computing, blah blah? Should we care?

You have heard by now about the significant growth in demand for electricity in general, ‘electrify everything’ this, ‘electric vehicle’ that, and on and on it goes. And to be clear, all of this is fine. Or is it? In particular, have you heard about cryptocurrency mining, artificial intelligence, and other types of data centers consuming all of the electricity? I think it’s rather interesting since at the end of the day, those who consume electricity consume it in some form or another.. Whether grandma is watching Wheel of Fortune (literally watched this with my Mom-Mom growing up) to a supercomputer trying replicate the function of a human brain, they are all consuming electrons generated at a moment’s notice for that service to be available. In this article, I attempt to broaden the spectrum of understanding of these types of electricity consumers.

And just to say simply, is this such a big problem? To consume a large amount of electricity? Let’s take a look.

According to a Platts article (see references below), “the volume of electricity needed for artificial intelligence remains unclear, but appears the technology will lead to a significant net increase of US power consumption”. Unclear you say? Thus a lot of the projections are speculations, even artificial intelligence does not report ALL of the electricity consumption data to a certain government agency or Amazon down to the tenth of a kWh. Wait a minute… Check out this growth for data centers

For “planned” data centers in the US electricity markets the article projected the amount of expected MW is 30,694 and the IOU (Investor Owned Utility) can supply the capacity of 20,619 MW of that. Well, I guess they can’t meet the demand? Let’s keep looking. As an example, Dominion Energy in Virginia currently serves the largest market of collective data centers and its electricity demand inside of its distribution network increased by 500% from 2013-2022. There are plenty of big-name data centers that are posted up there in Virginia. The data center growth is to the tune of 81 data centers, that had a combined capacity of 3,500 MW. Hey, that’s just ONE investor owned utility in the US out of ~3000. US data center growth is projected to grow from 19 GW nationally to 35. This article has some REALLY interesting data that is broken down by independent system operator (ISO) in the US and shows the amount of MW that are associated with the data center growth. It’s quite interesting (see references). Grid operators will need to keep an eye on this growth because, you know, it’s kind of important. Generators need to talk to ISO’s and even distribution and transmission folks need to go to lunch (literally) more often and support each other. Grid operators are already recognizing the shift from bass load to renewables is a problem and that it’s almost unsustainable. Can the demand for electricity surpass the growth of electricity generation in the US? AYYY YEOOOO! Now, let’s talk about that in more detail…

So now your thinking, “wow that SEEMS like a lot of electricity! well how much electricity is it?” Keep in mind, when I’m talking about data center growth, this DOES NOT include all the other stuff, that counts as additional growth added to the grid. When looking up how much electricity a supercomputer consumes for example, or how much total amount of electricity does a cryptocurrency mining operation consume, there are some interesting data here to check out. A reference article stated that ~40-50kW per stacked rack is typical electricity consumption, however now there are stacked racked mounted that are consuming 200+kW where we sit today. This is just one rack. The largest supercomputer in the world named th ‘Frontier” lives in its ‘data center’ home in Tennessee at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Frontier “takes a substantial amount of energy to support such feats. About 40 MW of power is fed into Oak Ridge’s building that holds its multiple data centers. We have moved beyond the scale of a single suburban power substation, We’re now at the scale of sort of two of those,” according to Oak Ridge’s director of science. The Frontier itself consumes 29 MW of power running it at full bore.

Now that is a super-duper computer!

As you know there was an Energy Information Agency form 862 miners were expected to fill out in order to provide transparency on a number of different things, one of those being energy consumption. As you read earlier, the article states that it is extremely difficult and ‘unclear ’ to understand accurately the information on the consumption of electricity for the Ai industry, maybe they should follow suit as the miners were supposed to? By the way, form 862 is no longer required and it’s been killed. Oak Ridge is one building that is very large and has a lot of electricity. So my logic is, they all are large consumers of electricity and one is needed to run more redundantly than the others. Fun fact, a lot of these data centers have water to cool the super computers also. There are different ways to use the water but the water-cooled infrastructure is decently good. As stated in the article “It’s such a huge benefit not to have to run those chillers because that’s essentially sort of reverse air conditioning, which costs a lot of money to power”. Back in 2012 Oak Ridge was looked at as a large energy consumer by labeling it equal with the electricity consumption of a small town. The consumption has grown significantly and there must be an upgrade given how efficient the operation has gotten over the years.

In a world where we desire equality, should all those capable of consuming electricity do so? Some more than others, but everyone from grandma to Frontier is consuming electricity and I say that is ok honestly. WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL. Is it too much to ask for folks to continue to look at building these types of industries in a way that also does not boil the oceans? I think this can be achieved. We have a bigger problem with waste in this world than in the way we can generate, transmit and deliver electricity, ain’t that right G? (shout out Mr G the Recycling Man).

Finally, let’s discuss how demand response strategies differ between data centers housing supercomputers and those used for Bitcoin mining. Simply put, they ain’t shutting that big brain off for any type of demand response or ancillary service they could provide back to grid operators. Data centers want the very high load factor and although the bitcoin miners want that load factor too, they will respond to demand and even sometimes frequency regulations if sophisticated enough. With multiple relays and systems set in place to monitor demand from multiple different electricity companies. For data centers, it’s more about redundancy than it is helping the supplier folks.

I’ll leave y’all with this. When looking up what type of supercomputers are the top ten in efficiency, I found this little nugget: “Notably, the waste heat from the system is used to heat nearby homes. The naturally cool climate of the region also contributes to the system’s efficiency as it requires less energy for cooling.” So, data center infrastructure is heating homes? Interesting. This was describing the #7 most efficient supercomputer. The #1 most energy efficient fake brain supercomputer… drum roll please, New York City’s Flatiron Institute the Henri system has a power efficiency ratio of 65.396 Gflops per watt.

Again, the primary issue here is communication, not with the aim of making the entire process ‘open source.’ Rather, it is essential that the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity proceed in a manner that makes sense. If this is achieved, consumers can hum along just fine.

Ooh, I forgot to mention noise. Data centers also have noise associated with them, however they tend to spend money to mitigate the noise inside of the buildings or real estate that they operate in. Think about that…

And another thing, there are literally folks out there trying to create powerful brains in the form of these computers. You heard that one big brain supercomputer can consume up to 40MW. So does that mean that the energy the human brain consumes is over 40MW of electricity in comparison? One super computer, 40MW, bitcoin mine 1MW-700+MW facility with multiple computers, and the human brain which cannot be calculated as far as energy consumption… You’ll have to decide which one is best but just know what is more important than the other for some folks out there, and those folks are indeed human.

PEACE and LOVE, Bass

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