Two major transformations are running in parallel: digitalization and renewable energies. Data centers, artificial intelligence (AI) and cryptocurrencies will double their electricity consumption by 2026, according to the latest forecasts from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The organization also expects renewable energy production next year to surpass energy production from renewable energy sources on a global scale and surpass energy production from coal, the most polluting fuel and a leading cause of climate change, to become the world's largest source of electricity.
The OECD's energy department notes that data centers are a “significant” driver of electricity demand “in many regions.” After consuming 460 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2022, the latest year for which figures are available, this amount will take a huge leap until it exceeds 1,000 TWh in 2026. This means that they will no longer demand the same as in the second year economy of the euro – France – on the equivalent of what the fourth world power – Japan – consumes. To put it into perspective, Spanish electricity consumption is around 250 TWh per year. “Regulation updates and technology and efficiency improvements will be critical to curbing the rise in energy consumption in data centers,” the agency’s engineers write in their latest monograph on the electricity sector.
At the end of 2023, there were just over 8,000 data centers worldwide. A third of these were in the USA, 16% in Europe and around 10% in China. In the case of the Old Continent, Spain is among the countries that are repeatedly mentioned as one of the great destinations for these investments in the future thanks to the lower electricity prices, although today most of them are located in the centers of financial institutions Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam , Paris or Dublin.
The sharp rise in demand for data centers, AI and cryptocurrencies is offset by significantly weaker growth in overall demand, even in the midst of the era of electrification and despite the push from India, China and several Southeast Asian countries. The 2.4% increase recorded in 2022 was followed by a 2.2% increase last year. In both years, advanced economies, particularly European ones, significantly reduced their demand due to the price crisis and lower industrial production.
Electrification and green boom
For the next three years, the Paris-based company forecasts average annual growth in general consumption of 3.4%. “The improved economic environment will contribute to higher demand in both developed and emerging markets,” the study said. “Especially in China and rich countries, the electrification of residential buildings and transportation as well as the expansion of data centers will be the main drivers.”
In 2023, the share of electricity in total energy consumption will reach 20%. That's two percentage points higher than in 2015, but the 30% needed in 2030 under the mid-century net-zero emissions scenario – a path set by the IEA itself to try to limit global warming Limiting 1.5 degrees – remains far away.
The acceleration of renewable energies will be much clearer. Zero-emission sources (solar, wind, hydro and nuclear) will increase from 40% of global electricity consumption in 2023 to around 50% in 2026. Nuclear energy will continue to increase and will set a historic record next year. “As French production grows, several Japanese plants are back active and new reactors are starting operations in several markets, including China, India, South Korea and Europe.” But the deciding factor will be green sources, coal early next year as the main source of electricity on a global scale, so that the fossil share (coal, gas and heating oil) will be below 60% for the first time. since there are records.
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