The energy industry faces some significant challenges, but AI applications could help. Increasing demand, population expansion, and climate change necessitate creative solutions that could fundamentally alter how businesses generate and utilize electricity.
Industry researchers looking for ways to solve these problems have turned to data and new data-processing technology. Artificial intelligence, in particular — and its ability to find patterns in energy production and consumption information — can help researchers optimize existing processes and find new solutions.
These are five of the AI applications transforming the energy industry right now.
1. Expanding the Smart Grid.
Smart thermostats and lightbulbs, for example, may supply building managers with a wealth of data on systems via the Internet of Things. In the near future, a network of intelligent gadgets could assist city managers in transforming how energy is consumed.
The smart grid will use information from networked utilities in a given area, like a city, to automatically adjust electricity prices and intelligently manage the supply and demand of power.
2. Improving Solar Forecasting.
Solar power is one of the cheapest and most abundant sources of energy available — but the limited efficiency of existing technology has meant slow adoption rates. While it can help energy companies save the environment, not everyone is willing to make the leap to solar power yet.
Part of the reason why solar panels are so inefficient is due to the difficulty of solar forecasting; predicting the availability of sunshine for a given area in both the short and long term.
IBM’s SunShot is one example of a major program devoted to improving solar forecasts with machine learning. It’s feasible to improve solar forecast accuracy by combining AI algorithms, historical weather data, sensor networks, and data from local weather stations. This helps predict power generation and optimize the placement of new panels.
More recent programs, like one launched by U.K. power companies, have applied AI to cloud movement data. This system provides even more accurate solar forecasts by predicting the motion of clouds over time.
3. Lengthening the Solar Panel Lifespan.
New AI technology may also help make new and existing solar panels longer-lasting, reducing the cost of installations and waste.
A team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University, and Turkey’s Gebze Technical University are applying data science to identify factors that may reduce solar panels’ efficiency and lifespan. The team is using a “neural network spatiotemporal graph model” and data from local photovoltaic systems.
The team’s findings could soon help manufacturers develop solar panels that are better at capturing sunlight, and are more resistant to environmental factors that can make them less efficient over time.
4. Protecting Against Cyberattacks.
Digitization of the oil and gas industry has exposed it to cyberattacks. High-profile attacks, like the Colonial Pipeline hack, have threatened the movement of oil around the U.S. and have put the industry on alert.
5. AI Applications in Extending Energy Storage.
As energy demand increases, so does the need for storage. California-based Stem Inc. has developed an AI platform called Athena to help companies optimize their clean energy storage technology.
AI allows for more effective storage pricing, lowering energy costs and improving system stability in places where renewables are used.
How AI Is Transforming the Energy Industry
Artificial intelligence is improving energy efficiency and making renewables much more practical. Already, the industry is using algorithms that optimize solar panels, intelligently manage the grid and improve energy storage. The technology is also helping the energy industry improve its cybersecurity efforts.
As the demand for energy rises over the next few decades, this technology is likely to become even more critical.