Does The Metaverse Really Matter To Energy?
If you’ve been keeping tabs on Meta (formerly Facebook), you’ve likely seen that the company is working to build a metaverse in conglomeration with other tech behemoths like Apple, Nvidia, and Microsoft. But despite its being a buzzword, the meaning of “metaverse” remains nebulous — and so do its implications for the energy sector.
What Is The Metaverse, Exactly?
Back in 1992, science fiction author Neal Stephenson published the novel “Snow Crash,” a zany cyberpunk parody that detailed life in 21st century Los Angeles post-economic collapse. Stephenson probably didn’t realize at the time that his book would propel him into literary stardom; “Snow Crash” was well-received by critics and appeared in Time’s list of 100 all-time best English-language novels written since 1923. He also didn’t know that by detailing a fictional concept known as the metaverse, he’d created a concept that would become a trending buzzword as soon as 2021.
In essence, the metaverse will be “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you,” per Meta. It will rely heavily on 3D, augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence technologies to allow users to congregate in digital format (i.e. in avatar form) and perform complex interactions, like going clothes shopping and attending concerts.
Though implementation is still a long way off (we’ll need about 1,000x more computing power before it becomes a possibility), the promise of the metaverse is generating significant excitement in the business and technology spheres. After all, it has the potential to fundamentally change the way we live and do business.
So what does that mean for the energy sector?
Why The Metaverse Will Matter To Energy
The metaverse won’t exist in real, physical space — but it will certainly rely on real energy to work.
The technologies that are making the metaverse possible aren’t exactly energy efficient. Take generative artificial intelligence, for example. Datacenter processing, especially for AI workloads, will be critical to the functioning of the metaverse — and according to the International Energy Agency, data centers consume approximately 200 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, or nearly 1% of global electricity demand. Nvidia’s StyleGAN3, an AI tool that can be used to generate portraits of people that don’t exist, is reported to consume around the same amount of energy as tens of thousands of U.S. homes, about 225 megawatts.
Utilities and energy providers will need to adjust their demand and load as the use of these technologies becomes more frequent in the coming years. Moreover, companies will need to reassess exactly what kind of — and how much — electricity they consume to create the metaverse altogether.
Green Energy May Get Its Moment
Building the metaverse has serious potential environmental consequences. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that training a single AI model alone can emit as much as 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s bad news for the tech companies investing in the metaverse, especially given the world’s recent pledge to hit net-zero by 2050. However, this challenge presents an opportunity for green energy to proliferate as renewables are poised to step in to help lower the metaverse’s carbon footprint.
Some companies are already switching to renewable energy to power their metaverse projects. Amazon, for example, recently became the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy. Google has signed as much as $2 billion worth of wind and solar investments and plans to use clean electricity to power its data centers.
As long as the world continues on the decarbonization trend, we can expect to see more companies building on-site renewable energy sources and partnering with green vendors to build a more sustainable, responsible metaverse.
Yes, You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
The metaverse is a fairly new endeavor, but the technologies used to build it — like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality — aren’t. And those technologies are no strangers to the energy industry, either.
Take digital twin technology, for example. A digital twin is a virtual model that accurately reflects a physical object. When something about the tangible object changes, so does the digital twin.
Let’s say you’re looking at a wind turbine. Should something change on the physical turbine, such as energy output or weather conditions, the digital twin will also reflect that change.
How do tools like digital twins and the metaverse relate? They’re both composed of the same building blocks, the aforementioned technologies — AI, VR, and AR. As companies like Google and Meta make strides in metaverse technology, there’s a possibility that those same technological advancements could carry over to digital twin applications.
Let’s say that in the metaverse, you’re able to enter a building in virtual reality that also exists in real life: your college or university. If you’re able to enter a virtual reality version of your physical school, why wouldn’t workers be able to enter a virtual reality version of a nuclear power plant? The same technology that makes going to virtual school possible also makes entering virtual copies of physical nuclear power plants possible. From a safety standpoint, this capability is invaluable, given that it could help workers train to enter high-risk scenarios without ever having to physically enter a dangerous situation.
Energy is making its own technological leaps and bounds, but the creation of the metaverse just may accelerate its progress.
The Metaverse: Energy’s Newest Frontier
The metaverse promises exciting new opportunities and challenges not only for business and technology, but for energy as well. Companies like Google and Meta may be dominating the spotlight for now, but the energy industry is well-positioned to make its own mark in humanity’s next incredible frontier.
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The technologies that are making the metaverse possible aren’t exactly energy efficient. Take generative artificial intelligence, for example. Datacenter processing, especially for AI workloads, will be critical to the functioning of the metaverse.
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