This interview is part of our new AI in Energy series, where we interview the world's top thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between AI and energy.
In this interview, we speak with Andrew Tang, Vice President, Energy Storage, Solar and Integration at Wärtsilä, to understand how his company is using AI to transform energy, and what the future of the energy industry holds.
1. What’s the story behind Greensmith Energy? Why and how did you begin?
AT: Greensmith Energy, a Wärtsilä company, is an energy storage innovator with over a decade of leadership in the industry. When Greensmith was founded in 2008, grid-scale batteries and supporting software were new concepts, and our team identified an untapped market opportunity. At the time, renewable energy like wind and solar were being added to the grid at a larger scale, and utility executives were struggling to understand how they could manage these new resources that are less predictable than traditional thermal resources like coal and gas. We understood that the right software and energy management solutions were required to help utilities add in renewable resources and energy storage while delivering reliable and cost-effective energy to customers.
Our early entry into the industry to address these challenges resulted in Greensmith delivering one-third of all energy storage installations in North America in 2016. We initially partnered with engineering, procurement and construction companies on our projects, but in 2017 we were acquired by Wärtsilä, the world’s top energy system integrator, and now offer turnkey solutions that can be fully implemented in-house. Our solutions currently power more than 70 energy storage systems in nine countries worldwide.
2. Please describe your use case and how Greensmith Energy uses artificial intelligence:
AT: Renewable energy resources like wind and solar are less predictable than fossil fuel generation because they are impacted by weather patterns that can change minute-by-minute — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Utilities must be able to anticipate and accommodate shifts in renewable energy supply in order to rely on renewable energy as a primary resource, and many are under pressure to do so with the emergence of aggressive 100 percent state renewable energy targets.
Our AI capabilities keep energy systems running smoothly and mitigate challenges of renewable energy intermittency. Greensmith’s GEMS software uses AI to assess data from all kinds of inputs in an energy system — from thermal and renewable generation to weather patterns and spikes in demand (like heat waves, or when we all arrive home at the end of the workday to make dinner and watch TV). GEMS correlates historical energy use data with these other variables to make immediate assessments about which assets need to ramp up and ramp down, maximizing the effectiveness of renewable energy resources without compromising the reliability of a system.
3. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer?
AT: The island of Bonaire has been working to achieve its 100 percent renewable energy goal, using a combination of wind power and traditional diesel engines. But they reached a limit in how much wind power they could feed into their system, which stopped them from making progress towards their goal and also meant they weren’t using all of the wind power being generated. Renewable energy sources don’t easily integrate with traditional thermal assets because of the difference in flexibility in how these assets operate.
Wärtsilä recently commissioned a 6MW/6MWh energy management and storage system project, and the utility, ContourGlobal Bonaire, is now managing and operating its entire island grid with the Greensmith GEMS platform. GEMS factors in real-time asset performance as well as load and renewable energy forecasts, and is able to switch between generation assets in the most efficient way. This has made it possible for the island to utilize the full potential of existing wind generation. The energy management and storage system project has doubled Bonaire’s renewable energy penetration. Bonaire now has plans to integrate more renewable energy by building solar, adding generation capacity to meet the demands of busy tourist seasons and hot days. With this GEMS AI solution in place, Bonaire is now back on the path to achieving its 100% renewable energy target.