"We need more energy, not less."

Ripped Out of Retirement

AI, which proponents say is humanity's future, is keeping the power infrastructure in the United States woefully in the past.

As The Financial Times reports, the power demand required to keep energy-guzzling AI models running is moving back the country's plans to retire heavily polluting and non-renewable coal energy.

According to the FT, major coal producers including AlliantEnergy have already moved sustainability goals by at least a few years. Electric utility company FirstEnergy also scrapped its 2030 goals entirely in February over demand concerns, as Bloomberg reported at the time.

The moving of goalposts comes as a big win for the coal industry — and a loss to national and global climate initiatives, for which reducing coal use is an essential and urgent goal. It also punctuates the desperation with which the US is trying to stay ahead in the ongoing AI race against international rivals.

AI is an endless energy pit. How far is the US willing to go, to beat the world to the AI punch?

Keeping the Factory Lights On

To put the urgency of coal reduction into context: in 2022, according to the World Resource Institute, coal was the source of 36 percent of all global power. By 2030, to stay on track for the 1.5-degree-Celsius climate threshold, the world will need to bring that 36 percent figure down to a comparatively meager 4 percent.

Between its sheer power demands — one ChatGPT query uses roughly ten times as much energy as a standard Google search — and its water-guzzling, AI is incredibly resource-intensive. This seems to be making a measurable dent: per the FT, the consultancy firm Grid Strategies predicts a nationwide "demand growth of 4.7 percent over the next five years." This forecast is reportedly double the previous year's figures, and while the number also takes cryptocurrency mining and cloud computing into consideration, AI is widely considered to be a major driving force in these shifting numbers.

Rest assured, those who have something to gain from the shift seem absolutely thrilled at the prospect that AI is the coal industry's knight in sooty, respiratory illness-causing armor.

"You can't replace the fossil plants fast enough to meet the demand," Alliance Resource Partners CEO Joe Craft, whose company holds rank as one of the US' top coal producers, told the FT. "In order to be a first mover on AI, we're going to need to embrace maintaining what we have."

"We need more energy, not less," added Indiana governor Eric Holcomb. (Indiana is one of America's top coal-producing states.) "We absolutely as Americans," he continued, "can't afford to lose the AI war."

More on AI and energy: ChatGPT Is Consuming a Staggering Amount of Water

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