Study Warns AI Industry Could Use as Much Energy as Netherlands

While artificial intelligence (AI) is certainly not a new industry, since AI-powered services like ChatGPT came onto the scene last year, everyone has wanted a piece of the technology.

But the excitement around AI has come with a price. A new study has warned that the excessive use of AI around the globe could consume as much energy as a country the size of the Netherlands by 2027, the BBC reports.

The Global Scramble for AI

In today’s landscape, AI is everywhere. Big tech firms have scrambled to add AI-powered services to their repertoire, the manufacturing industry has increasingly relied on its power, and the everyday tech-minded individual has revelled in its abilities.

Unfortunately, AI uses far more power than conventional applications, making going online much more energy-intensive, as AI requires more powerful hardware than traditional computing tasks.

Alex De Vries, a PhD candidate at the VU Amsterdam School of Business and Economics, conducted the study on the basis that some parameters would remain unchanged – such as the rate at which AI is growing, the availability of AI chips, and servers continuing to work at full pelt all the time.

However, the study also said AI’s environmental impact could be less than feared if its current rate of growth slowed.

Many experts, including the report author, emphasised that this research is speculative, as tech firms simply don’t disclose enough data for an accurate prediction to be made, so should not be taken at word.

“about the size of a country”


Mr De Vries considered that the chip designer Nvidia is estimated to supply about 95% of the AI processing kit required by the sector.

So, by looking at the amount of these computers it is expected to deliver by 2027, he was able to approximate a range for the energy consumption of AI of 85-134 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity each year.

At the top end that is roughly the amount of power used annually by a small country.

“You would be talking about the size of a country like the Netherlands in terms of electricity consumption. You’re talking about half a per cent of our total global electricity consumption,” said Mr De Vries.

Regarding his findings, the PhD candidate warns that AI should be used only where it is really needed.

How Much Energy Does AI Use?


AI systems such as the large language models that power popular chatbots, like Google’s Bard and OpenAI’s ChatGPT, require warehouses full of specialist computers – called data centres – to work.

Because of the requirements of these data centres, the equipment consumes much more power and, on top of this, also needs to be kept cool, using water-intensive systems.

Because many of the big tech firms don’t quantify this specific energy consumption or water use, Mr De Vries’s research did not include the energy required for cooling. He, among others, has called for the sector to be more transparent in this regard.

But, while many firms don’t explicitly release energy consumption or water use, there can be no doubt that demand for the computers that power AI is mushrooming – and with it the amount of energy needed to keep those servers cool.

In its latest sustainability report, Microsoft, which is investing heavily in AI development, revealed that its water consumption had jumped by 34% between 2021 and 2022, to 6.4 million cubic metres, around the size of 2,500 Olympic swimming pools.

Professor Kate Crawford, who wrote a book about AI and its impact on the environment, said the issue kept her awake at night.

 “These energy-intensive systems take enormous amounts of electricity and energy, but also enormous amounts of water to cool these gigantic AI supercomputers. So we are really looking at an enormous extractive industry for the 21st Century”, she said.

But there are also hopes that AI could help solve some of the environmental challenges facing the planet.

Google and American Airlines recently found pilots could halve the number of contrails, or vapour trails – known to contribute to global warming – created by aircraft by using an experimental AI tool to select altitude.

The U.S. government is also among those spending millions of dollars on trying to recreate nuclear fusion – the way the Sun gets its energy. If successful, this would be a real game changer. AI could aid the development of a limitless, green power supply, speeding up the research os something that has been going on since the 1960s.