AI energy draw from Chicago datacenters to rise ninefold

No wonder industry is exploring nuclear as an alternative to electricity

US energy provider Exelon has calculated that power demand from datacenters in the Chicago area is set to increase ninefold, in more evidence that AI adoption is will put further strain electricity supplies.

The utility giant revealed there are about 25 datacenter projects planned in the area around Chicago that would consume an estimated 5 GW of power, according to a report from Bloomberg.

green dc conceptual illustration

That runaway datacenter power grab is the best news for net zero this century


Exelon expects about 80 percent of those will actually reach completion, which would still be 4 GW of power consumption, compared with about 400 MW of demand from bit barns that the company said is the current situation.

This was disclosed by Exelon CEO Calvin Butler during an interview at the S&P Global Power Markets Conference in Las Vegas this week.

“We are seeing quite a bit of activity,” Butler said. The company, however, did not disclose when this new demand would hit the grid, and maintained it would continue to ensure its infrastructure will be able handle the growth in load.

The hike in demand would not immediately lead to more power generation, with the new datacenters initially served by excess capacity from the regional grid, imported electricity from other areas, and only then would Exelon resort to seeking fresh sources.

The state of Illinois is pitching itself as a top global datacenter location, with economic development organization Intersect Illinois claiming Chicago is tied with Dallas as the third-largest bit barn hotspot in the US. Some 4.8 million square feet (445,934 sqm) of data hall space is already in operation, with another 2.2 million square feet (204,386 sqm) in the pipeline, it said.

Demand for AI is already the cause of a surge in datacenter expansion globally. This week it was revealed that Microsoft plans to significantly ramp up the rate at which it adds new capacity in anticipation of more customers wanting to run generative AI projects.

Synergy Research Group also reported that it has taken just four years for the total capacity of bit barns operated by hyperscalers to double worldwide, and that capacity is set to double again within the next four years.

This is leading to growing concern that the AI-fueled increase in energy consumption by datacenters is putting pressure on electricity grids. According to the Financial Times, Ireland, Germany, and Singapore have all have introduced restrictions on new bit barn builds in recent years.

The head of the UK's National Grid warned that datacenter power consumption in Britain is on track to grow 500 percent over the next decade.

The Register also reported recently that datacenter power issues in Ireland are causing cloud operators such as AWS to ration the compute resources that customers can use. ®

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