Home » SELECT’s Stark warns AI could overwhelm power grid

SELECT’s Stark warns AI could overwhelm power grid

by Mark Cantrell
Balfour Beatty has begun work with SSEN Transmission on the development of nine electricity transmission projects across the North of Scotland.

The UK’s electricity grid could eventually be overwhelmed by the voracious power demands of artificial intelligence (AI), the new president of a Scottish trade association has warned.

Mike Stark, the president of Scotland’s electrical trade body, SELECT, highlighted concerns that the continued growth of AI – and the vast data centres that drive it – may exert an unsustainable demand on the nation’s electrical power supply.

The 62-year-old, who is director of data cabling and networks at facilities management firm OCS M&E Services, joins a growing number of experts who have warned about the new technology’s huge appetite for electricity; often greater than many small countries use in a year.

He also questioned whether the UK’s current electrical infrastructure was fit for purpose in the face of the massive increase in predicted demand, not only from the power-hungry data centres supporting AI but also from the continued rise in electric vehicle (EV) charging units.

Stark said: “AI is becoming more embedded in our everyday lives, from digital assistants and chatbots helping us on websites to navigation apps and autocorrect on our mobile phones. And it is going to become even more prevalent in the near future.

“Data centres, which have many servers as their main components, need electrical power to survive. It is therefore only natural that any talk about building a data centre should begin with figuring out the electrical needs and how to satisfy those power requirements.

“At present, the UK’s National Grid appears to be holding its own, with current increases being met with renewable energy systems. But as technology advances and systems such as AI are introduced, there will be a time when the grid will struggle to support the demand.”

The SELECT president said it is estimated that there could be 1.5m AI servers by 2027. Running at full capacity, these would consume between 85 and 134 terawatt hours per year – roughly equivalent to the current energy demands of countries like the Netherlands and Sweden.

He added: “I remember attending an EV training session about 25 years ago and the standing joke was, ‘where’s all this electricity going to come from?’ We all felt the network needed upgrading then, and now there is extra pressure from the new AI data centres springing up.”

Main image: Power transmission lines in Scotland courtesy of SSEN Transmission

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