AI to fundamentally change current systems in the energy sector – experts

AI to fundamentally change current systems in the energy sector – experts
Image credit: [epstudio20]

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is to play a significant role in the energy sector and will simplify decision-making when it comes to analysing consumer patterns and their economic impact.

This was one of the key messages from Alan Winde, Premier of the Western Cape province of South Africa, who hosted an Energy Digicon under the theme What role will Artificial Intelligence play in the future of energy generation?

Keynote speaker Martin Svensson, co-director of AI Sweden, said looking ahead, AI will impose greater challenges on the energy sector.

Citing the conversion of the automotive sector to a fully electric-based one, Svensson said the question is how to build the new system by harnessing AI.

Svensson said that in the future, individuals would also be able to produce their own energy, largely from solar power and AI applications would be integrated into this.

“Imagine a future where we are our own energy producers and what we produce we will be able to trade and have a system that optimises that from a financial perspective.” 

Forging a new energy system

Referencing think-tank RethinkX’s research – Rethinking Energy 2020-2030 – which says that we are on “the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most profound disruption of the energy sector in over a century”, Svensson said the current system will be disrupted by a new one.

RethinkX says that with most disruptions, this one is being driven by the convergence of several key technologies whose costs and capabilities have been improving on consistent and predictable trajectories.

These are solar photovoltaic power, wind power and lithium-ion battery energy storage. 

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“Our analysis shows that 100% clean electricity from the combination of solar, wind, and batteries (SWB) is both physically possible and economically affordable across the entire continental United States as well as the overwhelming majority of other populated regions of the world by 2030,” said RethinkX.

“Adoption of SWB is growing exponentially worldwide and disruption is now inevitable because by 2030 they will offer the cheapest electricity option for most regions. Coal, gas, and nuclear power assets will become stranded during the 2020s, and no new investment in these technologies is rational from this point forward.”

Energy systems run completely on renewable energy sources

Svensson said the new energy system will look completely different to the current one. He said, for a province like the Western Cape, the future system could be one without loadshedding. This would be achieved through a system that would be 100% solar, wind and battery based. 

“This is not driven by the current issues you face or by climate activism, but economical forces. That’s why I’m confident this will happen. There is a lot of positive opportunities.”

Svensson said solar and wind are already the cheapest new-generation options. It also costs less than existing coal, gas and nuclear power plants. The cost of SWB systems will fall another 70% by 2030, making disruption “inevitable”.

In terms of the Western Cape, Svensson said the region could have a “future of energy abundance.”

Based on modelling from California in the US, which has a similar solar and wind profile to the Western Cape, Svensson said in the next 10 years, the province could generate 14GW of solar, 1.7GW of wind and 80GWh of energy storage.

“This ‘super power’ will be enough to electrify the entire transportation sector and more,” said Svensson. He said the province had already started on this journey.

“This is within reach… The opportunity is here to accelerate this. This will solve the current situation,” said Svensson.

In terms of scepticism around AI, Svensson said it was important to learn and understand AI to help mitigate any possible risks it may pose. 

“We need to learn how to use it, but we do need to learn how to manage risks over time.”

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AI to play a huge role in the energy space

Special Advisor to the Premier on Energy, Alwie Lester, said AI will start to play a lot more of a critical role in the energy space.

“With the advent of AI, you could have a dynamic system that is managed by information and data that’s readily available and processed quite quickly,” Lester said.

“Typically, you could have a system operator that responds to things very differently based on AI as opposed to the conventional way we are responding to the system at the moment.”

“In the general energy space, I think we will start to see AI play a lot more of a critical role because you’re sitting with millions and millions of terabytes of information, especially the energy information but also economic and consumer information,” Lester added.

“And if you have the ability to sort of link these, your decisions around what energy at what point and at what price becomes rather easier when you have a system that can do this for you. The opportunity for AI to play a bigger role, particularly in the energy space is huge.

“We need to encourage the industry to look at this more holistically and not just try and solve one problem with it.

“But also look at it as part of the industry going forward.” 

Originally published by Yunus Kemp on ESI.