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AI is not just for SiliconValley: Powering Changes in the Energy Sector

By Chris Shelton, President, AES Next, The AES Corporation

Chris Shelton, President, AES Next, The AES Corporation

The potential for AI extends far beyond the borders of Silicon Valley and the tech giants we're used to hearing about; i.e. Google, Facebook and Apple. For a historically asset-driven industry like the energy sector, AI can accelerate the transformation of the entire power system at an unprecedented pace and scale, opening up new dimensions of opportunity and sustainability.

Turning yesterday’s infrastructure into a benefit for tomorrow

The electric grid represents a large segment of the world’s existing infrastructure. Most of the grid was deployed before modern computing equipment or advanced communication technologies existed, so the legacy environment offered little control and visibility.

"Energy companies will need to apply AI in a way that best suits their market, meets their specific business objectives and consumer needs"

To compensate and ensure reliability, the grid was intentionally overbuilt. Without the right technology, however, the value of the overbuild was never fully realized. Now, through the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI, we can access untapped information and take advantage of that data to make the grid greener, more efficient and more resilient.

When will we see the effects of AI?

Energy companies will need to apply AI in a way that best suits their market, meets their specific business objectives and consumer needs. As done with new technology in the past—for example, when advanced energy storage was first introduced more than 10 years ago by AES—power system stakeholders should put AI through a checklist and ask five key questions before embarking on the journey:

1. How does it work?
2. Is it dependable?
3. Is it scalable?
4. Is it sustainable?
5. Is it cost effective?

With energy storage, successful commercial projects immediately checked the first two boxes. But it took years for storage to meet the criteria of the last three questions.

The opposite is true for AI’s application in the power sector. It’s already clear AI is scalable, sustainable and cost effective, given successful implementations across industries including healthcare, financial services and retail. Yet, exact use cases for AI and its level of dependability are still being explored. Once these questions are answered, we’ll see rapid adoption and the effects of AI in the energy industry.

Soon, AI will be the power behind power

AI will surely create opportunities for investing in new forms of sustainable energy. And, as multipliers of value, such emerging digital solutions will also make current systems more profitable.

From major projects like utility scale, solar and wind farms, to smart appliances in homes, AI will finally allow us to harness the millions of connected assets on the power grid. By improving monitoring and enhancing awareness, helping with classification and outcome prediction, AI will bring new business value to utilities and significant benefit to consumers.

The promise of AI will inspire innovative thinking, and its possibilities will offer new ways to solve old problems. We’ve only just begun to discern what AI can do in the power sector, but if we commit to understanding its potential and applying its capabilities, we will transform the infrastructure and create a more sustainable future.

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