Jan 21 2020

How Utilities Deploy AI to Improve Their Use of Renewable Energy

Among other use cases, artificial intelligence solutions can help utility companies to optimize their clean power operations.

Harnessing renewable energy has become a global endeavor, with major players in the industry competing alongside scrappy startups to optimize the use of solar and wind power. But despite these efforts, no utility company has been able to completely crack the code that would lead to renewable energy sources fully supplanting fossil fuels.

In fact, according to mobile app developer Imaginovation, carbon emissions from fossil fuels hit an all-time high in 2018 due to increased global energy consumption. With the world’s population continuing to grow — and with scientists pointing to accelerating negative consequences of carbon emissions — improvements are needed to bring renewable energy sources to a place where they can meet more of the growing global demand.

More so than fossil fuels, sources of renewable energy can be unpredictable. And once a company gathers wind or solar energy, that energy must either be used immediately or stored in batteries, with suppliers hoping to match their supply to demand as economically as possible. The utility industry needs a boost in system intelligence to continue integrating renewable energy into the global grid and to recast renewable energy as a mainstream source of electricity. 

Fortunately, artificial intelligence technologies hold great promise for improving predictability in the sector and may lead to industrywide improvements that make renewable sources of energy more practical on a wider scale.

How AI Can Support the Utility Industry

Utility companies are leveraging AI and machine learning to manage the litany of diverse factors affecting renewable energy.

For one, AI can improve the reliability of solar and wind power by analyzing enormous amounts of meteorological data and using this information to make predictions. Armed with these insights, utility companies can better serve customers by removing the guesswork from the process of gathering, storing and distributing green energy.

Once deployed by a utility company across departments, AI can also aid in integrating microgrids and managing distributed energy. As a company adds energy generation technologies from local and community levels to larger grids, energy flow can make the system unstable. The most efficient way to balance these surges of power is to enlist AI in analyzing grids before and after they absorb smaller units, and in working to reduce congestion.

AI can also improve intelligent energy storage by gathering and analyzing data to determine the best batteries for power allocation. When AI functions as a tool for studying and regulating energy storage, it can also map the ideal layout for new storage spaces and energy farms as a company scales, notes market research firm Nanalyze.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Read how AI is revolutionizing retail.

How Energy Companies Are Already Using AI

Several energy companies currently use AI to facilitate and intelligently improve their internal systems, and their successes with the technology are making a compelling case for further expansion.

For instance, Nnergix pools data from the energy industry to make predictions and develop weather forecasts, and it leverages AI to improve accuracy. Smart home company PowerScout uses AI to identify spots in its code that will help save consumers money, and Google DeepMind used AI between 2014 and 2016 to reduce the amount of energy needed to cool the company’s huge data centers.

“Specifically, a set of data center operating scenarios and parameters were used to train a system of neural networks,” notes Emerj, an AI research company. “The neural network ‘learned’ how the data center functioned and began identifying opportunities for optimization.”

Regardless of a company’s exact focus, the renewable energy sector is becoming an increasingly important economic force around the world. As Imaginovation puts it: “The combination of artificial intelligence and renewable energy seems to be the perfect marriage of an emerging technology with a maturing industry.”

AI-powered data analytics is a particularly promising path to speeding up the industry’s expansion. By reducing the chance of human error in energy sourcing, storage and proliferation, AI will prove to be a useful tool for companies intent on reducing costs, expanding access to renewable power and preserving the natural environment.

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