Renewables’ Head-On Collision With Reality

The explosive growth of data centers is the pacing item for energy demand growth across the United States

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David Walsh is a recognized energy expert and notes that demand for energy normally approximates to growth in gross domestic product, currently at about 1.6 percent per annum. However, Dominion Energy, part of the PJM Power Transmission Consortium that serves 13 Mid-Atlantic States and the District of Columbia, is looking at 7 percent growth per annum, according to Mr. Walsh.
A significant component of the growth in demand is data centers—and the epicenter of data centers for both national and international use is Northern Virginia. The data centers in Northern Virginia direct 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic.

Mr. Walsh told me: “The country is woefully short of electricity now with the displacement of coal and gas by the Biden Administration. The Supreme Court handed coal a victory—but the perception and behavior are still to drive coal out of the market. Only continuous load, fossil fuel plants can provide the energy growth and reliability needed, and data centers and population growth are driving the demand for energy growth.”

The promise of “green” or “renewable” energy will move the growth of energy in the tenths of a percentage point per annum at some distant point in the future, but the chasm of shortfalls in energy delivery through renewables is mathematically insurmountable.

AI Needs Data, Data Needs More Data Centers, Data Centers Need More Energy

 The California and Texas grids have been facing rolling brownouts for years and are getting worse. Much of this is due to the ideology of green energy that has failed to deliver. The explosive growth of data centers is the pacing item for energy demand growth across the United States.

The battle for artificial intelligence (AI) dominance is a key part of the data center boom. AI needs voluminous and growing data, data needs data centers, and data centers need energy. The routers, servers, and air conditioning for the resilience of these data centers must have reliable, constant pull energy.

Virginia has historically been the epicenter of data centers since early U.S. government work on ARPANET, and has only grown since then. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has ensured that competitive terms are offered to data center providers to keep this boom going.
The original big name of AOL, America Online, was one of the first internet miracle companies in Data Center Alley, the corridor from Washington, D.C. proper to Dulles Airport. The former AOL campus is now being bulldozed and re-purposed as the new tech giants of Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others dominate the available building space in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties.
The growth of data centers is relentless, but it is not clear what the pathway is in Virginia to deliver the increased energy demands.

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors Sound Great but Are 10–15 Years Away

Mr. Youngkin has worked with the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate to pass legislation on small modular nuclear reactors in the 2024 session. Currently, two large, legacy nuclear plants in Virginia at Lake Anna and Surry provide 30 percent of the energy for Virginia.

This successful legislative push was only one step on a long pathway to small modular reactors, and according to Mr. Walsh, this process could possibly be another 10 or more years before energy is delivered out of this initiative. At 7 percent growth in energy demand increase per year, the math is not adding up.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in favor of coal, Virginia is still bound by a 2020 law that mandates 100 percent renewables by 2050—but the major Virginia utility of Dominion is reportedly leveraging an escape clause in the law that cites reliability and is stating in its Integrated Resource Plan that it will build more fossil fuel plants. Mr. Walsh reports that in the last 90 days, there has been a substantial increase in orders for natural gas-powered turbines.

The United States is the dominant world maker of natural gas-powered power plant turbines, and these have a low Chinese component dependency. At some point in the future, small modular nuclear reactors may be part of the solution; however, data centers need energy now, and the only realistic pathway forward is fossil fuels, despite the unicorn promises of “renewables.”

Natural gas turbines are the easiest to build and deploy to support the voracious energy growth of data centers.

All viewpoints are personal and do not reflect the viewpoints of any organization.

This article first appeared in Epoch Times and was reprinted with permission.

 

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