AI, data center electricity demand could drive advanced nuclear investment: NERC head Jim Robb

Dive Brief:

  • Rapidly increasing electricity demand from data centers and artificial intelligence could be a boon to the nuclear industry, drawing the necessary investment to spur development of small modular reactors, Jim Robb, president of the North American Electric Reliability Corp., said Wednesday in a discussion hosted by the United States Energy Association.
  • But there are risks associated with the rising demand, including co-location agreements between data centers and existing nuclear facilities that keep scarce electricity supplies out of regional markets, Tony Clark, a senior advisor at the law firm of Wilkinson Barker Knauer and former commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told a House subcommittee on Tuesday.
  • U.S. data center electricity demand could double by 2030 to consume 9% of U.S. electricity generation, the Electric Power Research Institute found in a May study. The increase is being driven by AI applications which require 10 times the electricity of traditional internet searches.

Dive Insight:

Data centers “truly are the backbone of today’s economy … making them really critical to society,” Christopher Wellise, vice president for sustainability at internet services company Equinix, said at Wednesday’s USEA event.

But the rapidly-growing load is also a challenge for grid operators. U.S. data centers are expected to require nearly 21 GW this year, up from 19 GW in 2023 — and could consume 35 GW by the end of this decade, according a May FERC report.

“We just recently surveyed a lot of utilities here in the U.S. and globally, and we’re hearing data service requests on the order of 4 to 5 GW for co-located facilities,” said Daniel Brooks, corporate vice president of integrated grid and energy systems at the Electric Power Research Institute, at the USEA event. “That’s a significant requirement in terms of supply and delivery capacity that has to be planned, permitted and constructed.”

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