How Bad Is A.I. for the Climate?

DealBook Newsletter

Tech giants are building power-hungry data centers to run their artificial intelligence tools. The costs of that demand surge are becoming clearer.


An aerial view of a large data center complex next to a power substation.
A.I. requires large data centers and a lot of power. That risks throwing companies’ climate pledges off track.Credit…Nathan Howard for The New York Times

The boom in artificial intelligence has minted billions in (paper) wealth for tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon. But there’s an overlooked set of winners as well: utilities and energy companies.

The power demands of the huge data centers that underpin the A.I. revolution keep growing. Wall Street is taking notice — but the climate effect isn’t getting as much attention.

The A.I. boom is supercharging markets’ interest in power. One sign of investor enthusiasm: The S&P 500’s utilities sector is up nearly 8 percent this year, outpacing the benchmark index overall.

Tech’s energy needs are coming into focus as investors get to grips with how much of an “energy hog” generative A.I. is becoming. Analysts at Wells Fargo see the A.I. boom helping to push up U.S. electricity demand by as much as 20 percent by 2030.

Shares in Dominion Energy rose last week after the company said it expected to supply 15 new data centers this year, some requiring a gigawatt or more of electricity. (For perspective, a gigawatt powers about 750,000 homes.)

And Microsoft announced a $10 billion green-energy deal with Brookfield Asset Management to supply electricity to some of its data centers.

Reporting earnings on Tuesday is Duke Energy, another utility with a big data center business.

But the A.I. revolution will largely run on fossil fuels. There’s a push underway to ensure that this increased energy demand is met with lower-carbon sources — consider the Microsoft initiative, or Amazon’s $650 million acquisition of a Pennsylvania center that sits next to one of the biggest U.S. nuclear power plants.

However, A.I. power demands are likely to be fulfilled largely by natural gas this decade, according to the Wells Fargo analysts. That could throw the climate pledges of utilities and tech giants alike into disarray.

Surya Hendry, an analyst at Rystad Energy, wrote in a research note last month that “rising data center demand creates a tough problem for utility companies, technology companies and policymakers who want clean energy.”

That energy crunch could affect climate policy. The Environmental Protection Agency last month issued new emission-cutting guidelines for power plants that run on fossil fuels.

But there already is pushback: There are “concerns that the rule could threaten grid reliability at a time when energy demand needs from A.I. is rising,” Sara Mahaffy, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, wrote to investors last week.

Howard Schultz pushes Starbucks to fix its slumping business. The coffee chain’s former C.E.O., who left the company in April 2023, wrote on LinkedIn that its “U.S. operations are the primary reason for the company’s fall from grace” and called for improvements to mobile ordering and more. The company reported disappointing quarterly earnings and profit forecasts last week, in part because of a drop in customer visits to stores.

Paramount begins deal negotiations with Sony and Apollo. The move to begin formal talks with the consortium about its $26 billion takeover bid, first reported by The Times, came after Paramount’s board let a period of exclusive merger talks lapse with the studio Skydance. That said, Paramount is continuing discussions with Skydance as well.

The Israeli military warns thousands in Rafah to leave. The announcement to residents of areas of the Gazan city signals that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may order an invasion that Israeli allies, including the U.S., have warned him against.


Warren Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, looked in good form at Saturday’s annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb.Credit…Scott Morgan/Reuters

I just got back from Omaha, where 18,000 people gathered for Warren Buffett’s annual “Woodstock for capitalists,” also known as Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting. I have to admit that I cried twice this year. Once was during a movie about Buffett’s friendship with his longtime business partner, Charlie Munger, who died last year at age 99. (Watch it here). The other was when Buffett highlighted the $1 billion gift of Berkshire shares that Ruth Gottesman gave this year to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, designed to make the Bronx school tuition-free in perpetuity. It underscored what a successful business can do for society: “That’s why Charlie and I have had so much fun running Berkshire,” Buffett said.

The Oracle of Omaha was still in good form at age 93 without Munger, though he acknowledged being less energetic in several instances during the meeting. In one poignant moment, when he finished one of his answers, he accidentally said “Charlie?” out of habit instead of calling on his chosen successor, Greg Abel, who sat next to him for the first time (along with Ajit Jain, Berkshire’s insurance guru).

The biggest news of the day was his disclosure that he trimmed his position in Apple — though he also praised Tim Cook, who was in the audience. Politics aficionados will try to read the tea leaves on what Buffett, historically a Democrat, meant about the upcoming election when he said this: “I shouldn’t be taking on any four-year employment contracts, like several people are doing in this world.”

Buffett ended the day by saying, “I not only hope you come next year, I hope I come next year.”

President Xi Jinping of China will meet his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, in Paris on Monday, with trade high on the agenda.

It’s Xi’s first trip to Europe in five years, and Beijing believes it can exploit tensions between the continent and the U.S. to disrupt President Biden’s use of global alliances to counter China.

Washington will be watching closely. Macron has called for Europe to take a different approach to China than the U.S. is taking. That’s despite him also warning that Europe risks falling behind in key sectors, including electric vehicles.

Macron and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, are expected to press Xi on reducing Europe’s €291 billion ($313 billion) trade imbalance with China, as well as Beijing’s support of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Xi will warn about trade protectionism and economic security, Yu Jie, a senior fellow on China at the British think tank Chatham House, told DealBook.

There are areas of potential cooperation. The French cosmetics and agricultural industries hope the talks will lead to better access to the Chinese market. And a big Chinese order for Airbus planes may also be on the agenda.

But the meeting has implications for China’s wider relations with the West. Biden has worked with other governments to blunt China’s influence and reach. Some European companies, such as the Dutch semiconductor equipment supplier ASML, are playing ball.

But Beijing sees weak points in that united front, especially if Donald Trump is re-elected and withdraws support for Ukraine. That could prod Europe to turn to China to help end the Russian invasion.

There are plenty of divides between Europe and the U.S. on China. Macron told Politico last year that Europe shouldn’t blindly follow Washington on issues like Taiwan. And von der Leyen has called for “de-risking” rather than “decoupling” when it comes to China.

Germany looms large, even though Xi isn’t going there this trip. China is Germany’s biggest trading partner, and German investments there hit a record last year. Beijing is hoping to exploit those close links: The German government is considering scaling back plans to increase scrutiny of Chinese investments, The Wall Street Journal reported last month.

The divisions are playing out in electric vehicles. Biden has called Chinese E.V.s a national security threat, and some European carmakers, like France’s Renault, want restrictions to protect them.

But German giants, including Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, are warning that protectionism would hurt competition and innovation.

The Beverly Hills Hotel is full of suits and security this week, which means one thing: It’s time for this year’s Milken Institute Global Conference.

The annual event is no longer just for financiers. Corporate executives, politicians and celebrities come to network, raise money, or to do both. (At least one of Bravo’s Real Housewives was seen dining at a nearby hotel, and while DealBook couldn’t confirm whether she was attending the conference, her dining companion was talking about one of their SPACs, a Milken-relevant topic.)

DealBook’s Lauren Hirsch is on hand in Los Angeles to get the inside dish from the Davos of the West.

Plenty of prominent attendees are set to speak. Starting on Monday, panels will feature:

  • Ken Griffin, the C.E.O. of Citadel, who most likely will be asked to weigh in on the election (he backed Nikki Haley) and on college student protests (he cut his funding to Harvard last year);

  • Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are on a panel about the polarized state of U.S. politics. Will Sinema say what her post-retirement gig is?

  • Elon Musk, who is set to close out Monday’s activities in what is sure to be a hotly attended event;

  • And Bill Clinton, who’ll be centerpiece of a closing plenary on Wednesday.

For those in need of a workout, free exercise classes are being provided by Dogpound, the celebrity gym known for preparing Taylor Swift for her Eras tour.

The conference isn’t shying away from divisive topics, unlike other gatherings such as the World Economic Forum and Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative. One panel is focused on antisemitism, with speakers including Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of the snack company Kind, and the journalist Bari Weiss.

An invite-only panel is devoted to the “progress and pushback” around the corporate diversity, equity and inclusion movement, featuring the financier Bill Ackman and John Hope Bryant, the founder of the nonprofit Operation Hope.

Is Milken becoming a safe space for C.E.O.s? Some attendees have mused to DealBook that the gathering is becoming a more welcoming place for them to speak out than, say, at Davos.

That might become even more true if Donald Trump, who has had a complex relationship with Davos and who as president pardoned Michael Milken, were to be re-elected.

Earnings and iPads are dominating the calendar. Here’s what to watch:

Tuesday: Apple plans to introduce new iPads amid a slowdown in its tablet business. On the earnings front, BP, Disney, and Saudi Aramco are set to release quarterly results.

Wednesday: AB InBev, Airbnb, Arm, Shopify and Uber will report earnings.

Thursday: It’s decision day for the Bank of England. The central bank is expected to stand pat on interest rates and to give further clues on whether it’s ready to cut them as soon as next month.

Andrew Ross Sorkin is a columnist and the founder and editor at large of DealBook. He is a co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and the author of “Too Big to Fail.” He is also a co-creator of the Showtime drama series “Billions.” More about Andrew Ross Sorkin

Ravi Mattu is the managing editor of DealBook, based in London. He joined The New York Times in 2022 from the Financial Times, where he held a number of senior roles in Hong Kong and London. More about Ravi Mattu

Michael de la Merced joined The Times as a reporter in 2006, covering Wall Street and finance. Among his main coverage areas are mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies and the private equity industry. More about Michael J. de la Merced

Ephrat Livni reports from Washington on the intersection of business and policy for DealBook. Previously, she was a senior reporter at Quartz, covering law and politics, and has practiced law in the public and private sectors.   More about Ephrat Livni

Roy Walsh

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