May 16, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Microsoft highlights a growing AI data problem

Illustration of a cursor on fire

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The rise of artificial intelligence is changing the landscape for tech firms and energy companies.

State of play: Microsoft divulged on Wednesday that its 2023 emissions were 29.1% above 2020 levels.

  • That's primarily from data center construction and "associated embodied carbon" in building materials and hardware.
  • The tech giant said it's boosting efforts to use "greener steel, concrete, and fuels."

The big picture: Microsoft's situation is "one of the first concrete examples of how the pursuit of AI is colliding with efforts to cut emissions," Bloomberg notes.

  • While construction of new data centers fueled Microsoft's emissions jump, existing and new facilities require lots of electricity.
  • The software big is a major renewables buyer and plans to match 100% of its corporate operations with them by 2025 on an aggregate basis. By 2030, it wants to meet its needs with zero-carbon sources 24/7.

Yes, but: More broadly, data centers for AI and cloud computing could boost use of natural gas.

  • A separate note from the consultancy East Daley Analytics explains why data center growth is bullish for pipeline companies like Energy Transfer and Kinder Morgan.

The bottom line: It's a pretty fluid and uncertain situation, and there's a lot of interest in ensuring low-carbon sources shoulder the weight.

  • But here's a snapshot: CNBC cites a recent Goldman Sachs estimate that gas will meet 60% of data center power demand growth by 2030.
Go deeper