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Why it’s time for energy utilities to leverage AI to build a ‘Live Enterprise’

image credit: © Blackboard373 | Dreamstime.com

When most people think AI, they think flashy apps, screens of cascading data, interesting insights and visualizations to act on, quickly. However, AI is not as gussied up in the energy utility industry. Instead, it takes the form of algorithms that track thousands, if not millions, of data points from dingy freezer cold rooms and directs the flow of energy. Here are a few instances of how AI plays a far-reaching and central role.

Powering the energy marketplace

Renewable energy is being supplied to the grid along with traditional fossil-based energy. Prices differ depending on the way energy is generated; consumers can also choose the type of energy they wish to consume, and the grid must be ‘really’ smart to record who has added what type of energy, on which day, at what time, and a lot of other data. The AI-enabled grid must also be able to accurately predict changes in demand during the day, and season and advise the utility to balance the load accordingly. This is all still nascent and the transaction is still being worked out, but the backbone of this Energy Marketplace is without a doubt, AI.

Intelligence to douse forest fires

When its summer and huge tracts of forest become tinder-dry, sensors on transformers and transmission and distribution lines will need to determine the situation. The monitoring solution will need to send alerts when the wind has picked up and auto shutdown the power before the lines spark a fire. The solution should also be able to alert officials, who can then inform consumers of imminent shutdown. AI has a pivotal role to play in predicting risk, saving lives and safeguarding expensive infrastructure. On the preventive side, AI can help deploy smarter vegetation management solutions through visual analytics and predictive capabilities.

Delivering real-time information to consumers

When consumers plug their electric cars into a charging port, they should be able to access information on the type of energy available to them and the prices they are likely to be charged. They should also have access to smart plans, which give them flexible energy consumption options. Consumers should be able to interact with an application and get the information they need anywhere, anytime. This would be a clear use case of AI at work through bots and other interactive ways.  

From siloed AI solutions to a live enterprise

Needless to say, there are tremendous benefits to be gained with AI. Many energy utilities are already developing and deploying solutions as those elaborated above. But where do we go from here? How should the utility continue to evolve innovatively?

Reviewing the AI growth trajectory, I think, it’s time for energy utilities to navigate their next level, wherein AI solutions are integrated, and data flows unhindered across systems, allowing the utility to be agile, evolving, learning, and sentient at scale – a Live Enterprise!

Preparing for a sensing, responding, live enterprise

To elucidate on this, a live enterprise is almost like a living being, sensing and responding, instantly and interactively. Does your utility wish to be a live enterprise? Here are the broad contours of how you can leapfrog from being ‘AI-powered’ to a ‘live enterprise’.

  • Understand the network – The network is humungous and an amalgamation of complex infrastructure.  Understanding and managing it can be possible with a digital twin – via a cool interactive dashboard, energy utilities can monitor components big and small. The data generated over time will display interesting trends – from the speed of the wind to variances in temperature, and advise the enterprise to act proactively instead of reactively.
  • Integrate the systems – In most energy utilities the process has already begun. The internet of things, blockchain, cloud, machine learning, deep learning, data analytics, and data visualization, are bringing together systems to facilitate instant action.
  • Ensure unassailable security – As a critical infrastructure, the energy industry will need security at the core of its service. It will have to hardwire multiple layers of security into expensive infrastructure, and consumer data and ensure uninterrupted delivery. An enterprise-level situational awareness to prevent, isolate and correct needs to be deployed at scale.
  • Adopt the right investment strategy and technology roadmap – To be future-ready, utilities will have to balance their legacy landscape with investments on innovative technologies. This requires a constant commitment to evolve the technological landscape while modernizing what is working well. Utilities will also have to be far-sighted about the applications they adopt, ensuring they can scalable. Technologies such as IoT, blockchain, and AI have this trait in their DNA.
  • Keep pace with regulations – As the opportunities and possibilities offered by AI expand, regulators are putting in place policies designed to protect consumers, deepen transparency and ensure accountability. A strong focus on regulations while re-imagining the business model is key to long term success of utilities.
  • Ensure close connection with prosumers – Utilities will have to keep a finger on the pulse of consumers to develop need-based solutions.
  • Reskill employees – To process the insights derived from the data and translate these to timely decisions, energy utilities will have to prioritize the re-skilling of employees accordingly. Identification of core skills and managing the talent to meet these skills will be an important function for senior leadership.

As the demand for energy continues to increase and innovative technologies become crucial levers, utilities will find that they have a unique opportunity to reimagine processes, experiences, and ecosystems so that when that switch is flipped on, it’s not just energy running through those wires, but insights from a truly Live Enterprise.

Ashiss Kumar Dash's picture

Thank Ashiss Kumar for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 13, 2020 1:19 pm GMT

When consumers plug their electric cars into a charging port, they should be able to access information on the type of energy available to them and the prices they are likely to be charged. They should also have access to smart plans, which give them flexible energy consumption options. Consumers should be able to interact with an application and get the information they need anywhere, anytime. This would be a clear use case of AI at work through bots and other interactive ways.  

I love this-- I'm an EV driver but I don't actually have to take out my car on a daily basis so I have great flexibility on when to charge. I'd love if there was some sort of AI that would be able to sense when the grid has the most clean energy generation online and specifically charge then compared with other times when the fossil fuels are carrying the load. Is that a type of application you see in the future?

Linda Stevens's picture
Linda Stevens on Feb 13, 2020 6:06 pm GMT

Excellent insights! How do you see geospatial data and analytics fitting into this vision? Are there ways utilities can better leverage geospatial data like satellite information and sensor data?

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