AI In Energy: Building A More Sustainable & Efficient Energy Grid

Power systems are becoming vastly more complex as demand for electricity grows and decarbonisation efforts ramp up. In the past, grids directed energy from centralised power stations. Now, power systems increasingly need to support multi-directional flows of electricity between distributed generators, the grid and users. The rising number of grid-connected devices, from electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to residential solar installations, makes flows less predictable. Meanwhile, links are deepening between the power system and the transportation, industry, building and industrial sectors. The result is a vastly greater need for information exchange – and more powerful tools to plan and operate power systems as they keep evolving.

This need arrives just as the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) applications are rapidly progressing. As machine learning models have become more advanced, the computational power required to develop them has doubled every five to six months since 2010. AI models can now reliably provide language or image recognition, transform audio sounds into analysable data, power chatbots and automate simple tasks. AI mimics aspects of human intelligence by analysing data and inputs – generating outputs more quickly and at greater volume than a human operator could. Some AI algorithms are even able to self-programme and modify their own code.

It is therefore unsurprising that the energy sector is taking early steps to harness the power of AI to boost efficiency and accelerate innovation. The technology is uniquely placed to support the simultaneous growth of smart grids and the massive quantities of data they generate. Smart meters produce and send several thousand times more data points to utilities than their analogue predecessors. New devices for monitoring grid power flows funnel more than an order of magnitude more data to operators than the technologies they are replacing. And the global fleet of wind turbines is estimated to produce more than 400 billion data points per year.

This volume is a key reason energy firms see AI as an increasingly critical resource. A recent estimate suggests that AI already serves more than 50 different uses in the energy system, and that the market for the technology in the sector could be worth up to USD 13 billion.