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‘Power-hungry AI systems take central role in society’

by Pieter Werner

Mike Stark, the new President of Scotland’s largest construction industry trade association, SELECT, has expressed concerns about the increasing demands on the electrical network due to the growing integration of artificial intelligence (AI) systems in society. Stark, who assumed the presidency on June 6, emphasized that the UK’s National Grid may struggle to meet the substantial energy requirements of AI technologies.

Stark, 62, is the Director of Data Cabling and Networks at OCS M&E Services. He joins a number of experts highlighting the significant electricity consumption of AI, which can exceed the annual energy usage of many small countries. He questioned the adequacy of the UK’s current electrical infrastructure to support the predicted surge in demand from both AI data centers and the expanding number of electric vehicle (EV) charging units.

He pointed out that AI is becoming increasingly embedded in daily life, from digital assistants and chatbots to navigation apps and autocorrect features on mobile phones. Stark warned that the future proliferation of AI would place even greater demands on the electrical network. He noted that data centers, which house numerous servers, require substantial electrical power, making the assessment of power needs a critical aspect of planning any new data center.

Stark highlighted that while the National Grid currently manages increased demand with renewable energy systems, future advancements and widespread AI implementation might challenge its capacity. He cited estimates that there could be 1.5 million AI servers by 2027, consuming between 85 and 134 terawatt hours annually, comparable to the energy needs of countries like the Netherlands and Sweden.

Reflecting on the history of electrical demand concerns, Stark recalled an EV training session 25 years ago where the adequacy of the electrical network was already in question. He underscored that the pressure on the network has only increased with the rise of AI data centers.

With 44 years in the electrical industry, Stark began his career as a qualified electrician at Arthur McKay in 1984, now part of OCS. He succeeds Alistair Grant as SELECT President, who previously raised alarms about unqualified tradespeople installing renewable technology. Darren Crockett of Robert AS Crockett and Partners Ltd is the new SELECT Vice President, and David Harris of DMH Electrical Services is the Depute Vice President.

During his two-year term, Stark aims to engage with SELECT members to understand industry issues and to continue advocating for the recognition of electricians as professionals. He emphasized the need for regulation, noting that unlike doormen who require Security Industry Authority regulation, anyone can currently claim to be an electrician without formal training.

Stark also highlighted the importance of a steady supply of electrical apprentices to meet future demands. He stressed the need for properly trained and qualified apprentices to lead the industry as society becomes increasingly dependent on electricity. SELECT has long campaigned for regulation alongside the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) and the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB), even creating a Wall of Support to demonstrate the broad backing for their efforts

Photo: Immediate Past President Alistair Grant, left, and new SELECT President Mike Stark.

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