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Nvidia AI Chips: Energy Efficiency, Data Center Sustainability and Net Zero Reality Checks

May 20, 2024 by Joe Panettieri

What is Nvidia's AI chip strategy -- especially as it pertains to balancing data center scalability, energy efficiency and sustainability? Glad you asked.

Jensen Huang, CEO and co-founder, Nvidia

The multiple-part answer to that question goes something like this:

  1. CEO Jensen Huang touts the energy efficiency of Nvidia's GPUs for AI data centers, stating that the GPUs are "typically 20X more energy efficient for certain AI and HPC workloads than traditional CPUs."
  2. Numerous climate tech startups leverage Nvidia's GPUs and the Earth-2 digital twin platform for their applications.
  3. Nvidia publishes an annual Corporate Responsibility Report with various Scope 1, Scope 2, Scope 3 and renewable energy data points.
  4. Still, we don't know if Nvidia has actually set a net-zero deadline for its own business. Net0Tracker says no such goal has been announced. And we're checking to see if the company employs a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). We're reached out to Nvidia for comment on those items, and we will update this blog when we hear from the company.

In the meantime, this regularly updated blog tracks Nvidia's overall sustainability strategy -- both internally, and for the chip company's partners and customers. So check back regularly for timeline updates below.

AI Data Centers and Energy Consumption: Some Context

First, the big picture: Some critics worry about AI-centric data centers demanding more and more of the world's energy. To wit, AI could consume up to 3.5% of the world’s electricity by 2030, Gartner predicts. In terms of current projects, 73% of IT buyers are not completely prepared for the energy requirements of AI, according to survey findings from Pure Storage and Wakefield Research. Moreover, 89% of IT buyers found ESG goals more difficult to meet as a result of upgrades to their IT infrastructure for AI adoption, Pure Storage and Wakefield added.

Sam Altman
Sam Altman, CEO, OpenAI: Investing in energy startups that power AI data centers

Amid that backdrop, technology companies, utilities, and venture capital firms are investing billions of dollars into hardware, software and infrastructure that improves renewable energy and storage, energy efficiency, carbon reduction and more. One example involves OpenAI CEO Sam Altman investing in Exowatt -- a renewable energy startup that wants to offer cost-effective power for generative AI applications and data centers

Nvidia GPUs and AI Data Centers: Business Background

Where does Nvidia fit into this conversation? The Santa Clara, California-based company develops GPUs (graphics processing unit) that power many of the world's AI data centers.

GPUs were initially created to handle graphics rendering tasks in gaming and animation, Amazon Web Services notes. But GPUs also are well-suited for parallel processing tasks. And parallel processing boosts AI application performance, AWS adds.

The rise of generative AI has therefore triggered booming demand for Nvidia's GPUs. To wit, Nvidia's annual revenue reached $60.9 billion in fiscal year 2024, up 126% from $26.9 billion in fiscal year 2023.

What is Nvidia's Sustainability, Net Zero and Energy Efficiency Strategy?

Dig into Nvidia's FY2023 Corporate Responsibility Report, and you'll find extensive information about the company's sustainability strategy; annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 categories; and GPU use cases for climate tech applications.

Still, the 59-page report mentions the term "net zero" only three times, and never specifically states if Nvidia has a net-zero target date. Also of note: To the best of our knowledge, Nvidia does not employ a chief sustainability officer (CSO) -- at least not in title. (We've reached out to the company, seeking to know if Nvidia has a dedicated sustainability leader.)

Poke around LinkedIn, and you'll find some Nvidia executives who have sustainability and/or ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) experience.

Key names to know include:

Tonie Hansen, who built Nvidia's ESG department, exited the company in June 2023, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Nvidia veteran Tonie Hansen built the company's ESG department

In stark contrast, many leading cloud services providers (CSPs) and chip makers have dedicated CSOs, and clearly stated net-zero target dates. Examples include CSO leadership and net-zero goals from AWS, Google, Microsoft and Intel (though Intel does not participate in the Science Based Targets initiative), just to name a few.

Nvidia: Anecdotal Progress on Sustainability

Without mentioning a CSO by name or specific net-zero target year, Nvidia's FY2023 Corporate Responsibility Report emphasizes the following sustainability goals and metrics:

  • By the end of fiscal year 2025, and annually thereafter, the company expects to "achieve and maintain 100% renewable electricity for offices and data centers under our operational control."
  • NVIDIA Blackwell GPUs, unveiled in March 2024, are "generally 25X more energy efficient than traditional CPUs for certain AI and high-performance computing (HPC) workloads," the company asserts.
  • NVIDIA technologies now power 23 of the top 30 systems on the latest Green500 list.

Continue to Next Page: You'll find Nvidia sustainability news and an associated timeline from 2022 through present.

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