How AI is Disrupting the Energy Industry

  • 22 February 2018
  • Damon Lapping

AI is to be a major part of the 4th Industrial Revolution and will disrupt many industries as we know it. Everything from self-driving cars to the legal industry and manufacturing etc. A lot of existing jobs as we know it will disappear. Many new types of jobs will be created too though. In today’s digital world where more and more devices are being connected, we are collecting data at an extremely fast rate and lots of it. The rise of Big Data and AI holds a lot of value for companies. As they can use AI to process and analyse this data as it’s never been done before. The result is more fine-tuned better operations. Leading to better services and products that are more cost-effective and improve companies bottom line. How will AI impact the energy industry? AI in the energy space has only just started but the potential is huge. It is expected in the future that AI will aid utilities in managing, optimizing and maintaining the grid and power plants. AI will form a major part of the SMART grid with the increased use of digital technology in the utility grid.

AI and the SMART Grid

AI will be able to improve awareness, efficiency and maintenance of a utility grid’s system and utility assets such as wind and solar farms. Technology giants such as GE and IBM are building prediction and maintenance AI machines, for the electricity industry. AI can also be used to predict Renewable Energy output based on historical climate data and weather forecasts. By nature, renewable energy production is erratic and very much depends on weather conditions. Using AI renewable energy plant asset managers will be able to operate in the energy trading market more efficiently and balance the grid better. Another area for AI in the energy industry is infrastructure management. Machine learning has already been operating in this space for some time through alerts and alarms of grid failures. Using complex algorithms utilities are able to better monitor the health of the electrical grid. Predict points of failure and optimize maintenance better. AI can be used to make SMART Grid operate more efficiently. Predict when batteries and other crucial equipment will fail.

Odoroaga Monica/123RF

AI and the Demand Side of Energy

Another high-value application of AI in energy is around demand management. These include energy efficiency, demand-side management, and demand response. This steps outside the actual grid and impacts the energy end user. Many startups are working on developing AI connected home devices. That will manage better the supply/demand factor. Such as automated “set it and forget it” solutions. Startup’s are building AI systems that will make office buildings more comfortable and improve energy efficiency. Using “Big Data” such as the number of humans occupying the building and using climatic data etc. Alphabet Nest’s is a US startup that uses AI to learn a home occupant’s habits. Then control the home’s temperature by adjusting the cooling and heating thermostat. The end result is a reduction in energy consumption. Resulting in cost savings for the homeowner and reduction on greenhouse gas emissions. Startup Comfy offers a similar type of service but is aimed more at office buildings.

Where is AI and the Energy Industry Heading to?

Energy companies are still trying to figure out how best to apply AI to the energy industry and investment has increased by tenfold in 2017. Mergers and acquisitions of AI startups by energy companies have soared. From an average value of around $500 million in the first quarter of 2017 to $3.5 billion in the second quarter. Utilities are leading the pack with AI startup acquisitions. “Big Oil” companies are also starting to show an interest in how AI can assist them in improving their business operations. Plus, assist humans in their never-ending quest for new sources of clean energy. A major advantage of AI is the ability to overlay it onto existing systems. That utilities have built over decades and take advantage of that data collected over time. The future of AI in the energy industry is bright and exciting. It’s set to revolutionise the energy industry as we know it!

About Damon Lapping

Damon is an experienced energy management consultant, passionate about sustainable energy. He provides Energy Management and Resource Efficiency consulting services to the UNIDO NCPC (National Cleaner Production Center) program being rolled out to developing countries. In the past he was involved in Africa’s largest utility, Eskom’s Demand Side Management program in the corporate sector. He also provides sustainable energy consulting services to clients globally. He currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa.