Data center growth in the United States: Decoupling the demand for services from electricity use

Arman Shehabi, Sarah J. Smith, Eric Masanet, Jonathan Koomey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Data centers are energy intensive buildings that have grown in size and number to meet the increasing demands of a digital economy. This paper presents a bottom-up model to estimate data center electricity demand in the United States over a 20 year period and examines observed and projected electricity use trends in the context of changing data center operations. Results indicate a rapidly increasing electricity demand at the turn of the century that has significantly subsided to a nearly steady annual electricity use of about 70 billion kWh in recent years. While data center workloads continue to grow exponentially, comparable increases in electricity demand have been avoided through the adoption of key energy efficiency measures and a shift towards large cloud-based service providers. Alternative projections from the model illustrate the wide range in potential electricity that could be consumed to support data centers, with the US data center workload demand estimated for 2020 requiring a total electricity use that varies by about 135 billion kWh, depending on the adoption rate of efficiency measures during this decade. While recent improvements in data center energy efficiency have been a success, the growth of data center electricity use beyond 2020 is uncertain, as modeled trends indicate that the efficiency measures of the past may not be enough for the data center workloads of the future. The results show that successful stabilization of data center electricity will require new innovations in data center efficiency to further decouple electricity demand from the ever-growing demand for data center services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number124030
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • data centers
  • energy demand modeling
  • energy efficiency
  • information and communication technology (ICT)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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