Energy saving in the digital era: Artificial Intelligence as key resource
For any modern company, investing in energy saving should be a no-brainer. It is one of those rare cases in which business and environmental needs are perfectly aligned, and a large infusion of public investments is there to bump up the momentum.
However, apart from a few specific energy-intensive industries, most companies see energy saving as a “nice-to-have”, and not as a top priority. A McKinsey study found some interesting drivers for this phenomenon, the most crucial being:
Need for investments In a cash-strapped economy that changes fast, investing large chunks of capital for energy efficiency is not always possible, especially if energy is not part of the business’s core activities.
Difficult to measure Energy is one of the few goods/services that we don’t pay for at the moment in which we consume it. This makes it incredibly hard for consumers to identify the drivers of a higher or lower energy bill.
Awareness Many people simply do not know all the different options they have to achieve significant energy savings.
Let’s dig deeper into these points and see how Artificial Intelligence can address them.
Need for investment & data
The traditional way to save energy has always been to invest in new appliances, new machines, or better infrastructure. For instance, a building can become more energy efficient by investing in better insulation or a better HVAC plant. Or a factory could install a CHP (combined heat and power) solution, or change its machinery for more modern and efficient ones. The common denominator here is that all these initiatives require some degree of investment in physical components that are often quite expensive. We don’t discount low-hanging fruit that can bring about substantial gains with limited investment, but these kinds of measures are often already in place. The real challenge is to take it to the next level.
Fortunately we live in a digital world, and developments in Artificial Intelligence could bring about the change we need to achieve reach for the next level up.
Availability of data is the first and most important condition to enable the use of Artificial Intelligence. Sensors have become a commodity, which enabled a big shift to a world of software, and of course the collection and management of big data. Using AI algorithms, and feeding it with the data points we collect from processes, machines or buildings, allows us to create a digital twin that is an accurate representation of where the data was collected from.
Once a digital representation has been created, various optimization solutions can be explored without changing any hardware or infrastructure. Rather, one could simply explore changing the way one uses what is already in place. And it’s been tried at tested. Google famously experimented with this in their data centers, and achieved cost-savings of up to 40%.
The key takeaway here is that, despite tradition, substantial savings can be made without having to invest heavily in new infrastructure. With the right sensors in place, one can turn to software solutions. It is no surprise then that the International Energy Agency’s Digitalization and Energy 2017 Report considers smart thermostats as the energy efficiency invention with the highest potential impact; offering low barriers to digitalisation and a potential energy cut of 10%.
Software optimisation requires much smaller investments than most physical upgrades. Moreover, it can also lead to a better understanding, improved predictability and accountability of savings. The world of software enables new business models, unlocking new opportunities for energy companies.
So with the need for investment and the collection of data surmountable, the only obstacle left is: how does one raise awareness about the potential of AI and other software technologies?
Most people perceive the use of Artificial Intelligence as some sci-fi, far-fetched technology that will require us to communicate with robots in everyday life. While this is not impossible, it is important instead to raise our awareness of said technologies and improve our knowledge on the principles behind AI technology. Solutions don’t have to be complex. Many are within reach and certainly affordable. And it has the potential to help us all reduce our energy consumption and growing energy bills.
What can you do now?
In times of technological advancements and markets disruption, being aware of where the wind is blowing and what this means for your career or your business is the single biggest asset to have.
InnoEnergy has partnered with the AI Academy to offer a professional learning course on AI for Energy Business Managers. The course will empower participants with a clear and deep understanding of AI, its principles, the challenges and the opportunities that it represents for energy players.
This non-technical course is free of hype and rich in practical, hands-on insight into real-world application. The course is a fast track to harnessing the power of next-generation digital innovation for your career or your organisation at a strategic level.