The Cloud and the Internet Need Hydrocarbons

The Cloud and the Internet Need Hydrocarbons, by Mark Mills.

Tech companies confront an inconvenient fact: the global cloud uses more energy than is produced by all the planet’s wind and solar farms combined.

One-click shopping and streaming video, and everything else digital, rely on an ecosystem of energy-intensive hardware to mine rare-earth elements, manufacture silicon engines, and light up countless cell towers and warehouse-scale data centers.

This hardware is deeply and deliberately intertwined in global systems overwhelmingly fueled by hydrocarbons — the old-fashioned stuff that provides 85 percent of all energy, with just 3 percent coming from wind and solar. …

These same tech companies, meantime, are preparing for the brave new world of artificial intelligence (AI) by building out an even bigger cloud infrastructure. Global digital-energy consumption, projected to rise at an unprecedented rate, is on track to outstrip the growth in output from all wind and solar installations planned over the next decade. …

Physics dictates energy costs for speed. Global networks already use as much electricity as Italy. Forecasts see 5G at least doubling that usage. … Digital traffic is projected to increase 400 percent in the next five years alone. …

Nothing prevents deep-pocketed tech companies from abandoning public grids to build their own green power plants. That’s not happening because the cloud needs what conventional energy systems provide: reliable and affordable power.

Going back to windmills is not the answer. Hydrocarbons are just a stop-gap until we get fusion power working.