This week’s Current Climate, which every Monday brings you the latest news about the business of sustainability. Sign up to get it in your inbox every week.
Our insatiable appetite for web-based services and streaming platforms has required the construction of ever more powerful data centers, all of which need more and more electricity to operate. Managing that growing demand adds to the challenge of slashing carbon emissions from the grid. Some estimates see energy needs for data centers tripling by 2030, accounting for 7.5% of U.S. energy consumption. The surge in controversial cryptocurrency mining is part of that, as is the fast-emerging AI industry. The U.S. Energy Information Agency took a look at the impact of crypto’s energy needs and estimates it may already account for up to 2.3% of U.S. energy consumption.
As for AI, ChatGPT’s Sam Altman acknowledged that its vast computer networks and high-powered chips are going to need ever more electricity to achieve all that he envisions. At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, he conceded that “we still don’t appreciate the energy needs of this technology” and that an energy breakthrough was probably necessary for AI. Until then, the growth of power-hungry AI-enabled tech may already be slowing efforts to shutter dirtier, carbon-spewing power plants.
Shifting gears to the electric vehicle market, 2024 is starting off with more pessimism about how rapidly that industry will grow. U.S. EV sales surged to a record 8% or so last year, led by demand in California, the top market for battery-powered models. Growth in the Golden State was robust for most of 2023, with EVs accounting for more than 21% of all new vehicles sold there. But the pace cooled notably in the year’s final quarter, dropping 10% sequentially from Q3, according to data from the California New Car Dealers Association. The coming months will show whether that’s just a speed bump related to high interest rates or a hazard signal from consumers.
The Big Read
Los Angeles Startup Uses AI To Reduce The Carbon Footprint Of Concrete
For the past decade, researchers at UCLA’s Institute for Carbon Management have been working on how to use data to reduce the environmental harm from concrete. The startup based on their work, Concrete.ai, said that field tests using its AI-driven software reduced emissions by 30%, while cutting costs by more than $5 per cubic yard. That’s a big deal because cement, the key ingredient in concrete, is the source of 8% of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the gas that’s catastrophically warming the planet. Yet concrete is ubiquitous – used in buildings, roads and other structures worldwide – because of its durability and low cost. “From an impact perspective, you’re talking about three times more emissions than aviation,” Concrete.ai CEO Alex Hall told Forbes. “We haven’t seen technological advances in the concrete design and manufacturing world for the better part of 50 years.”
What Else We’re Reading
A new study suggests that particles that emanate from tires as they roll down the road are hazardous and may be above environmental safety limits in certain locations.
At the L.A. Times, Sammy Roth argues that California’s Imperial Valley is poised to be a large producer of lithium.
New research finds that rising sea levels could cause wetlands to emit more methane.
Residential solar company Sundown has defaulted on $300 million in loans but it’s still worth $630 million–for now.
Synthetic biology company Light Bio is now selling a new product: petunias that naturally glow in the dark, enabling outdoor lighting without the need for power.