SELECT warns about demand for electricity from power-hungry AI

SELECT warns about demand for electricity from power-hungry AI

SELECT’s new President has warned that the demands on the electrical network to power AI may become unsustainable as it becomes a growing part of society.

Mike Stark, who took over the association reins last week, said the UK’s National Grid could struggle to satisfy the voracious energy needs of AI and the systems it supports.

The 62-year-old, who is Director of Data Cabling and Networks at Member firm OCS M&E Services, joins a growing number of experts who have warned about the new technology’s huge appetite for electricity, which is often greater than many small countries use in a year.

And he questioned whether the UK’s current electrical infrastructure was fit for purpose in the face of the massive increase in predicted demand, not only from the power-hungry data centres supporting AI, but also from the continued rise in electric vehicle (EV) charging units.

Mike says, “AI is becoming more embedded in our everyday lives, from digital assistants and chatbots helping us on websites to navigation apps and autocorrect on our mobile phones. And it is going to become even more prevalent in the near future.

“Data centres, which have many servers as their main components, need electrical power to survive. It is therefore only natural that any talk about building a data centre should begin with figuring out the electrical needs and how to satisfy those power requirements.

“At present, the UK’s National Grid appears to be holding its own, with current increases being met with renewable energy systems. But as technology advances and systems such as AI are introduced, there will be a time when the grid will struggle to support the demand.”

Mike said that it is estimated that there could be 1.5 million AI servers by 2027. Running at full capacity, these would consume between 85 and 134 terawatt hours per year – roughly equivalent to the current energy demands of countries like the Netherlands and Sweden.

He adds, “I remember attending an EV training session about 25 years ago and the standing joke was, ‘Where’s all this electricity going to come from?’ We all felt the network needed upgrading then, and now there is extra pressure from the new AI data centres springing up.”

Mike has spent 44 years in the electrical industry, with 40 of those providing continued service at the same company; starting at Arthur McKay as a qualified electrician in June 1984 to his current role at what is now OCS.

He was confirmed as new SELECT President at the association’s AGM at the Doubletree Edinburgh North Queensferry on Thursday 6 June, taking over from Alistair Grant, who recently warned about the dangers of rogue tradespeople installing renewable technology.

Darren Crockett of Dundee-based Member firm Robert AS Crockett and Partners becomes the new SELECT Vice President, with David Harris of Glasgow’s DMH Electrical Services being appointed Depute Vice President.

During his two years in the Presidential hotseat, Mike said he is looking forward to meeting fellow Members to learn about issues in the electrical industry and to maintain the association’s ongoing campaign to have the role of an electrician recognised as a profession.

Mike notes, “Doormen who manage the front of house in clubs have to be regulated by the Security Industry Authority before they can work, but anyone can call themselves an electrician without any training or a full electrical apprenticeship.

“That’s why we must continue with the great job that SELECT has done to raise awareness about the importance of regulation of the electrical industry and to have ‘electrician’ recognised as a profession.”

Mike also stressed the importance of ensuring there is a continued pipeline of electrical apprentices to meet the future demands of a society that will depend so heavily on electricity.

He concludes, “We have to have people who are qualified, skilled and knowledgeable to be able to introduce and oversee this new technology, which is why we need more properly trained and suitably qualified electrical apprentices acting as the vanguard of our industry.”

For more from SELECT, click here.

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