Quantum Computing: Accelerating the path to a sustainable supercomputing future
The quest for sustainable supercomputing is a pressing concern in today's digital age. As highlighted in the article "Sustainable supercomputing for a greener future," the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre in Perth, Australia, is leading the charge with its supercomputer, Setonix. The Pawsey Centre runs a 120kW Solar Array, which powers the pumps for its groundwater cooling process, saving approximately 70 million litres of water over the past decade. This supercomputer is not only powerful but also energy-efficient, ranking as the fourth most efficient supercomputer in the world according to June ’23 ranking in the Green500 list.
However, despite its impressive efficiency, Setonix consumes a substantial 477 kW of energy, enough to power 400 average-sized US homes. This significant energy consumption underscores the need for more sustainable solutions in the supercomputing sector.
Enter quantum computing, a revolutionary technology and relatively new one that promises to accelerate the path to a greener supercomputing future. Unlike classical computers that use bits (0s and 1s) to process information, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in multiple states at once thanks to the principles of quantum mechanics. This allows quantum computers to process a vast number of possibilities simultaneously, offering a level of computational power that is unattainable with classical computers.
For example, and in contrast to Setonix, QuEra's 256-qubit Aquila quantum computer, a neutral atom quantum computer, consumes a mere 7 kW, roughly equivalent to the power of five personal hair dryers. This stark difference in energy consumption highlights the potential of quantum computers to perform some of the calculations currently performed by supercomputers, thereby saving substantial energy.
Quantum computers are particularly well-suited for applications in machine learning, optimisation, and simulation. These are areas where quantum computers can outperform classical computers, offering faster and more efficient solutions. The reason for this efficiency lies in the fundamental nature of quantum computing. Unlike classical supercomputers, which grow linearly in power when adding more CPU/GPU units, the power of quantum computers grows exponentially with the addition of more qubits. This exponential growth allows quantum computers to perform complex calculations more efficiently, leading to significant energy savings.
The low power consumption of QuEra's Aquila is not unique in quantum computing. Other quantum computers also have comparably low energy consumption, typically no more than 25 kW. This low energy consumption, combined with their computational power, makes quantum computers a promising solution for the future of sustainable supercomputing. We expect future generations of quantum computers – some more powerful for certain tasks than today’s fastest supercomputer – will not require substantially more energy than today’s quantum machines.
The promise of quantum computing is not just about improving the efficiency and power of our supercomputers. It's about reimagining what is possible with computing technology. It's about pushing the boundaries of our knowledge and understanding. It is envisioned that quantum computers can help reduce the energy consumption in additional ways, such as helping to develop more efficient solar cells, better EV batteries, or optimise traffic patterns and thus save substantial gasoline.
However, it's important to note that quantum computers are not a panacea. They won't replace classical supercomputers entirely but will work alongside them, handling tasks where they have a clear advantage. This symbiotic relationship between quantum and classical computers will help optimise energy use in the supercomputing sector.
In conclusion, the path to a sustainable supercomputing future lies in leveraging the strengths of both classical and quantum computers. Quantum computers, with their low energy consumption and exponential computational growth, offer a promising solution to the energy challenges faced by the supercomputing sector. By harnessing the power of quantum computing, we can accelerate our journey toward a greener, more sustainable supercomputing future.
Yuval Boger is the Chief Marketing Officer at QuEra Computing. QuEra Computing is commercialising advanced quantum computers based on neutral atoms. The company developed and is operating the world’s largest publicly-accessible quantum computer, available now for general use over the Amazon Braket cloud.