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  • Writer's pictureRealFacts Editorial Team

Data Center Growth Challenged Despite AI Demand


data center

The buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) is palpable, with software companies touting the transformative potential of their AI-driven products. Generative AI, in particular, is heralded as the future of business operations, promising automation and efficiency that could revolutionize industries. However, behind the excitement lies a complex reality: the substantial infrastructure required to support AI's growth, particularly data centers, presents significant challenges for investors.


The Growing Demand for AI and Data Centers


AI's integration into business processes is rapidly increasing. According to a Gartner estimation, by 2026, more than 80% of enterprises will have utilized generative AI APIs or models, a sharp rise from less than 5% in 2023. This surge in AI adoption demands an extensive expansion of data centers, which are the backbone of AI infrastructure. These centers house the powerful servers necessary to process the vast amounts of data AI applications require.


Tony Kim, BlackRock's head of fundamental equities global technology, emphasizes the scale of this buildout. "We are now building ever-larger AI factories to manufacture intelligence. This buildout phase is only in its second year and I expect it to continue throughout the decade, to become the largest infrastructure investment in history," Kim noted. However, the financial and logistical hurdles associated with this expansion cannot be understated.


Financial Challenges: High Costs and Economic Pressures


Constructing data centers for AI is an expensive endeavor. According to BlackRock's iShares report, the cost of building AI servers is roughly 40 times that of traditional data centers. Each gigawatt of additional data center power could require an investment of $10 billion to $12 billion. This significant outlay poses a daunting challenge for commercial real estate (CRE) investors and developers.


Many CRE investors are already grappling with financial concerns, such as the ability to refinance major property holdings. The pressures on commercial property markets, combined with the substantial capital required for data center construction, create a precarious financial landscape. Investors must carefully consider whether they have the financial capacity to undertake such investments and the potential risks involved.


Power Consumption: An Escalating Concern


Another critical factor is power consumption. Data centers are notorious for their high energy demands. Goldman Sachs estimates that by 2030, U.S. data centers will represent 8% of all power consumption in the country. As AI applications proliferate, this percentage is likely to increase, leading to substantial hikes in energy costs.


Investors must be prepared for these rising costs and consider the sustainability of their energy sources. The push for greener energy solutions is more relevant than ever, as reliance on non-renewable energy sources could lead to even higher operational costs and regulatory challenges in the future.


Material Shortages: Copper and Rare Earth Elements


The materials required to build and maintain data centers add another layer of complexity. Copper, a crucial component for electrical systems, is projected to become a "chokepoint" for both energy and digital infrastructure. The International Energy Agency's "Energy Transition Mineral Price Index" highlighted that the price of copper, along with other essential materials, has seen significant fluctuations.


While prices for some materials stabilized by the end of 2023, copper prices remained elevated. This makes the electrical systems needed for data centers more expensive, adding to the overall cost burden. Investors must factor in these material costs and potential supply chain disruptions when planning their data center projects.

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