Tech companies ask NextEra for enough electricity to power entire cities

(Bloomberg) — Tech companies are so desperate to build massive U.S. data centers that they’re asking clean energy giant NextEra Energy Inc. to find them locations with enough electricity to power entire cities.

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“Some people came to us and asked, ‘Can you show us sites that can meet 5 gigawatts of demand?’ » said John Ketchum, CEO of Florida-based NextEra, in an interview with Bloomberg News in New York on Wednesday. “Think about it. That’s the size of the city of Miami’s power supply. Ketchum declined to name the companies.

Such power — roughly the equivalent of five nuclear reactors, or enough to power nearly 3 million homes — would require a combination of new wind and solar farms, battery storage and grid connection, Ketchum said. He added that finding a site that can accommodate 5 gigawatts would take some work, but there are places in the United States that can accommodate a gigawatt.

Energy consumption in the United States is exploding, in part because of new data centers needed for artificial intelligence, high-speed streaming and remote work. The rise of domestic manufacturing and the electrification of vehicles and other sectors are also fueling the rise. While rising demand is fueling a boom in clean energy production, it is also spurring plans for new fossil fuel power plants, complicating climate goals.

Rising demand has even led NextEra to consider restarting the Duane Arnold nuclear power plant in Iowa, which closed in 2020 after its largest customer opted to end its power purchase agreement. electricity. More than a dozen U.S. reactors have closed since 2013, as operators struggle to compete with cheaper power from natural gas and renewables. But with consumption increasing, there is now talk that some of them could reopen.

Ketchum said he has received inquiries from potential data center customers who might be interested in taking advantage of the 600-megawatt Duane Arnold reactor. “I would consider it, if it could be done safely and within budget,” he said.

The CEO said he expects a nearly 40% increase in U.S. electricity demand over the next two decades, up from just 9% in the previous 20 years. Renewable energy will meet the bulk of the increase in consumption because new gas plants are much more expensive, take too long to connect to the grid and must be supplied by pipelines that are difficult to build, he said. -he explains.

He said adding battery storage to wind and solar farms can make these carbon-free sources almost as reliable in providing energy around the clock as fossil fuels.

“If I want to pay double, I can go with a gas plant,” Ketchum said.

NextEra is the world’s largest non-government-backed wind and solar developer, behind China’s large state-owned companies. The company has a portfolio of approximately 300 gigawatts of renewable energy and storage projects.

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