Sam Altman ventures into renewable energy to tackle data center power demands


(Photo: Flickr / World Economic Forum)

Sam Altman, OpenAI CEO, to address the massive power demands of data centers, has recently expanded into renewable energy, particularly focusing on solar power and energy storage, alongside investments in nuclear fusion technology.

The Wall Street Journal reports, Sam Altman, along with venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, has invested US$20 million in Exowatt, a startup specialized in providing clean energy to data centers.

Current solar, wind, and battery technologies still cannot fully meet the round-the-clock operational demands of data centers. The power consumption of just one data center can be enough to supply tens of thousands of households.

Exowatt is based in Miami, Florida and provide dispatchable power and heat for up to 24 hours per day, specifically designed to meet the needs of energy-intensive applications such as data centers, according to its website.

(Photo: Exowatt)

“AI models have been doubling in size every three months—a pace that requires significantly more data center power,” said Jack Abraham, Co-Founder of Exowatt. “In order to keep up with AI advancements, we need more sustainable energy solutions, which is why we started Exowatt.”

Unlike traditional solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity directly, Exowatt has developed modules roughly the size of shipping containers to store solar energy in a thermal battery. This way allowing it to store energy at a fraction of the cost of electrochemical batteries and without any supply chain dependency on scarce rare earth materials.

Exowatt expects to be able to offer electricity for as low as US$0.01 per kilowatt-hour, or even less in some cases, which will make it lower cost than fossil fuels and other renewable energy alternatives.

“You don’t have to go back to fossil fuels to solve the data-center energy problem. That’s counterproductive,” Hannan Parvizian, Exowatt’s chief executive said.

Other tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft have also recognized the challenges of inadequate power supply. Microsoft has not only recruited nuclear experts to develop small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) but also purchases electricity from nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, Amazon, in March, invested US$650 million to acquire a data center campus in Pennsylvania and gained ownership of the nuclear power plant that primarily supplies electricity to it.

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