Google’s emissions soar 48% amid AI energy surge

Google’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2023 were 48% higher than in 2019, according to its latest environmental report. The tech giant attributes this increase to the rising energy needs of its data centers, driven by the explosive growth of artificial intelligence (AI).

AI-powered services require significantly more computing power—and consequently more electricity—than standard online activities. This has prompted a series of warnings about the technology’s environmental impact. Google’s goal is to achieve net zero emissions by 2030, but the company acknowledges that “as we further integrate AI into our products, reducing emissions may be challenging.”

In its 2024 Environmental Report, Google cites “increasing energy demands from the greater intensity of AI compute” as a major factor. Data centers, essentially vast collections of computer servers, are critical to AI operations, which require substantial energy.

A recent study found that a generative AI system, like ChatGPT, might consume around 33 times more energy than machines running task-specific software.

However, Google’s report also highlights significant global disparities in the energy sources used by its data centers. Most centers in Europe and the Americas primarily use carbon-free energy, while those in the Middle East, Asia, and Australia rely far less on such sources. Overall, about two-thirds of Google’s energy comes from carbon-free sources.

The increasing energy—and water—demands of AI have raised concerns, especially given the sector’s rapid projected growth. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates recently downplayed AI’s environmental impact. Speaking in London last week, he suggested that AI might increase electricity demand by only 2% to 6%. “The question is, will AI accelerate a more than 6 percent reduction? And the answer is: certainly,” he said, according to the Financial Times.